A Sort of Homecoming
You do your best, the Friday Newsletter will do the rest.
There’s a lot of good happening right now, but it can be hard to see that if all you focus on is what’s bad.
This can be a general statement, sure, but I’m specifically applying it today to talk about the 2021 college football season. As you may well know, the Cincinnati Bearcats were egregiously snubbed by the College Football Playoff Committee on Tuesday, ranked four slots lower than they have been in the traditional polls in an apparent signal that the opaque and unaccountable 13-person panel intends to do whatever they can to keep the team—my team—from competing for a championship. (If you’re interested, Rodger Sherman has an excellent writeup on this travesty at The Ringer.)
I could choose to spend my time, both here and this weekend, grousing about this. (Further grousing, that is.)
But I’m not going to. I’m going to focus on the positive.
I attended the University of Cincinnati from 2000-06, and like many people, my alma mater holds an outsized place in my heart. It was the place I crossed from childhood to adulthood, the place I made some of my longest-lasting friendships and lifelong memories. It’s a place I think very warmly of, even if there were highs and lows during my time there; it’s home as much as anywhere else is.
This weekend, I’ll be returning to that campus for the first time in two years. I’ll be meeting up with some of those friends—people I first met 21 years ago on a campus that looks very different than it does now, watching a football team that looks very different than it did then. I have not seen some of these friends in years—there’s a half-dozen new children to our collective names since we last met—but here we are, shaking off the worst year and a half of our lives and stepping into a brighter day, vaccinated, boostered, and ready to watch our home campus play host to College GameDay before the #2-ranked, 8-0 Cincinnati Bearcats (hopefully) wreck shop.
We will walk onto a campus that has changed remarkably since we left 15 years ago; some of the places I lived and ate and drank and hung out with these same people no longer exist; bigger, shinier buildings have taken their place, populated by students closer in age to our children than ourselves. It’s a place that has improved immeasurably, and it’s a reminder that things can get better. That’s a simple concept, but one that’s often felt deeply out of reach over the last 18 months.
I’m not focusing on what’s gone wrong this weekend. I’m focusing on what’s gotten better.
As with every Friday morning edition of The Action Cookbook Newsletter, today, I’m offering you a selection of seven good things for your weekend improvement: a recipe, a drink, music, a book, two wild cards and a selection of reader-submitted pet photos.
And in honor of this trip, I have something very special for today’s food selection.
7) Cheer Cincinnati, Cincy Will Win.
I’ve been thinking about today’s creation for quite a while. It was first conceived after [number redacted] beers at a Cincinnati tailgate in 2019, and I’ve been waiting for just the right moment to unleash it.
Just over a month ago, the Bearcats made their definitive statement win of the 2021 season, heading to South Bend, Indiana (with 10,000 or so fans in tow) and handily defeating #9-ranked Notre Dame in their own stadium, breaking a 24-game home winning streak for the Fighting Irish.
A tweet exchange with my friend (and brand-new Jeopardy! contestant) Chuck McKeever in the immediate aftermath of the Bearcats’ 24-13 win predicted this moment:
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
“Oh, god. He’s going to put Cincinnati Chili somewhere it doesn’t belong.”
Well, you’re wrong.
Cincinnati Chili belongs everywhere.
Like, for instance—inside a deep-fried football.
YOU: [collapsing on the beach like Charlton Heston at the end of the original Planet of the Apes]
ME: [smiling ignorantly] Want to hear how I made it? Of course you do.
The Skyline Football, or, Arancinci
1 can of Skyline Chili
1 can of red kidney beans, drained
1/2 medium white onion, minced
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded finely
2 cups dry short-grain rice*
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2-3 eggs, beaten
2 cups oyster crackers
aerosol cheese product, for garnish (optional)
*I used one 16-ounce package of Mahatma sushi rice, but Arborio would work well too
First thing I did was to pour the chili into a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl; Skyline chili has a fairly thin consistency, and I didn’t want excess liquid to sabotage my filling. The remaining chili-paste was mixed in a bowl with the kidney beans, onion and shredded cheddar cheese.
Meanwhile, I cooked the rice according to the package instructions, transferred it to a mixing bowl, and folded in the cream cheese while still warm.
On a non-stick mat, I placed a large handful of the rice mixture, then a scoop of the chili mixture on top of it; from there, I pinched the rice around the chili mixture, shaping and pressing with my hands until the chili was completely encased in rice and the whole thing had the rough shape of a football. This was an inexact process, if you can imagine, but the ingredients I had made six miniature football-sized balls.
Now, the astute reader will realize that—despite the obvious stunt aspect to what I’m doing here—this is really just a modified version of arancini, one of my favorite foods and something I’ve played with before, like in December 2019 when I put halal cart-style chicken and rice into my delicious Halal Balls.
Of course, I’ve got to make the appropriate modifications for the moment, and any true connoisseur of Ohio Valley cuisine knows that it wouldn’t be Skyline Chili without oyster crackers.
In lieu of bread crumbs, I pulverized two cups of oyster crackers in a food processor until they were the size and shape of bread crumbs. I beat three eggs in a bowl, dipped and rolled each football in the eggs, then into the cracker crumbs until fully breaded.
I heated canola oil in a small pot to 350F, and—carefully lowering each football into the hot oil with a metal spider strainer—fried, rotating occasionally until pleasantly golden-brown, between 5-8 minutes per ball.
Here’s a photo essay of the whole glorious process, and a reminder that subscriptions to The Action Cookbook Newsletter are as good a gift for your enemies as they are for your friends.
Now, it would be fair of you to question me in this moment.
Okay, this is very funny, but is it actually something anyone would want to eat?
Yes. It was freaking delicious. It was a giant ball of fried carbs and chili. There’s nothing not to like here, and even if you’re a heathen who rejects the gospel of Cincinnati-style chili, you could easily achieve similar results with a more traditional form of chili; it’d be a great way to repurpose leftovers.
I mean, look at this glory:
You look at that and tell me Cincinnati isn’t #1 in your hearts.
Now, let’s talk drinks.
6) Winding up for a punch
I’ve got a bit of a curveball in mind for today’s drink section.
I do, as usual, have a cocktail project for you, but it’s not something we’re going to be able to drink today. It’s an investment in the future.
You see, my liquor shelf has been getting crowded lately, and there’s a lot of less-than-half-full bottles of things that are taking up space. It’s a clean-out-the-fridge moment, but it’s also an opportunity. The holiday season will be here before you know it, and we’re going to want a nice, festive drink when December rolls around. Well, much like how I’m trying to stay ahead of supply chain issues with my Christmas shopping—despite today being November 5th, I’ve done a significant amount of it already—we need to do a little advance legwork.
We’re going to make punch.
2 cups brandy
2 cups whiskey
2 cups rum
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup dried cranberries
2 vanilla beans, split
1 stick cinnamon
peels from 3-4 lemons
peels from 2-3 oranges
Now, these proportions are imprecise. I happened to have roughly those amounts of brandy, bourbon and rum in lower-shelf bottles that I didn’t mind mixing, so that’s what I used, and that trinity is also the foundation of some historic drink recipes like Chatham Artillery Punch. But, this is about clearing out the 2021 stock; use whatever dregs of brown liquor is available to you. Similar on the fruit; I bought those because I like those, but adjust to your sensibilities.
Add it all to a glass pitcher—the one pictured below is 1.8L, for reference—and let it sit. Maybe three weeks, until Thanksgiving. Maybe six weeks, until holiday party season. The longer, the better. This is a cousin to my good friend Ramzy Nasrallah’s recipe for Apple Pie Bourbon, another idea that it’s a great time to start on right now, should you want it available for the holiday season—you can find that over at Eleven Warriors.
Here’s the mixture.
Now, I’ll confess: do I know if this will work? Technically, no. I have not actually tried this before. But I’ve done enough experimenting behind my home bar that I have pretty good confidence it will. We’ll check back in a month or so to find out. (I think this will mix well with a squeeze of fresh citrus and a splash of sparkling wine, in a classic punch format.)
Of course, this leaves us without a drink today.
I’m tailgating tomorrow, so I’d like to talk about beer.
6B) CAN CHECK
It’s remarkable how much the beer industry has changed in the 21 years since I became legal drinking age; there was a time where “craft” beer meant Magic Hat #9, Blue Moon, or Dundee’s Honey Brown might be the only options available to you. These days, I can select from a dozen different craft breweries from within a 100-mile radius, and that’s just at the grocery store. I can cover my entire range of beer desires purchasing only from Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio breweries.
Of course, this means that we all have different local favorites now.
I was lucky enough to receive a beer care package from reader and beer scientist @Beer_Nye recently, and was introduced to what might quickly be one of my all-time favorite beers: the Coffee Vanilla Cream Ale from Columbus, Ohio-based Wolf’s Ridge Brewing:
I hear “coffee” on a beer, and immediately assume that I’m dealing with some thick, dark beer, which isn’t what this was at all. It’s a light, crisp, clear and refreshing beer, but with an unmistakable back-note of coffee beans. It’s remarkable, and if you’re ever passing through Ohio, you should seek it out.
Of course, if you’re not in Ohio, it’s a bit harder to find, but I want to turn this into a discussion. What’s the best local beer from where you’re from?
I want to hear more. Also, I briefly considered the notion that this should lead to a Beer Secret Santa among ACBN readers, but I’m not sure how I’d pull that together and it’d only be questionably legal. Still. It’s a thought.
5) What the hell is up with the obsession with the fall?
It was total happenstance that I recently came across this week’s music selection, while letting Spotify drift after listening to another artist I enjoy, but I’m very glad they came up: Saugus, Massachusetts-based band Driveways. I appreciate both the band’s sound and their straightforward description of it—as they note in their Twitter bio, “If you enjoyed pop punk/post hardcore music from like 2002 to about 2008 then you might like Driveways.”
I did, and I do.
They’ve self-released a series of albums, each of them in the fall and each with a vaguely Halloween-themed cover, but this is more atmospheric than literally thematic; they’re the sound of earliest sunsets and grey skies, of fall foliage turning to cold, wet leaves.
Here they are with “Obsession”, from their just-released album Skeptic:
I think I’ve made it clear here already that I’m a sucker for any band that channels the sounds of the early aughts, and given the homecoming theme I’ve touched on today, this just feels appropriate.
4) Video games, things of that nature
Today’s book is one that I’ve been looking forward to reading for quite some time, and it doesn’t disappoint. Trevor Strunk—known to many as Twitter user @Hegelbon, creator of this iconic tweet—
—and an all-around good dude, has been hosting the excellent podcast No Cartridge for years, where he analyzes video games and video game culture from an academic and theoretical perspective. That work is now distilled into book form, with the imminent release of his book Story Mode: Video Games and the Interplay Between Consoles and Culture, which hits shelves next week.
The book is excellent, as I fully expected, and that’s coming from the perspective of someone (me) who is not in any way a gamer. The last video game console I purchased was a Nintendo Wii in 2007, but I still found the book deeply engaging, and in fact explained some things about contemporary culture that my non-gamer status left me blind to.
(Even though the book technically releases next week, I pre-ordered through Bookshop months ago, and they shipped it to me last week. This is yet another reason you should buy books through Bookshop instead of the space-rocket guy’s site.
Hey, I’ve even got a Bookshop store!
(I receive a commission if you purchase through that page.)
3) What’re you watching?
I’m a bit behind on my media recommendations this week. I’ve been keeping up on Succession, Only Murders In The Building, and The Great British Bakeoff lately, but I’ve featured all of those things here before. I have plans to watch Dune soon, but haven’t had the right window of time.
That said, in the spirit of homecoming—and of my cramming into an off-campus AirBnB with a group of guys I once lived in a not-too-distant but much-crappier off-campus house with a couple decades ago—I want to talk about Old Favorites.
This isn’t guilty pleasures, per se, but rather, movies or shows you have a nostalgic fondness for despite knowing that they’re objectively rather bad. The Jagermeister shots of movies, the things that immediately remind you of a younger, dumber time.
For me, that’s almost certainly The Boondock Saints—a deeply dumb and often-problematic movie that I watched countless times back in those days and could probably still recite nearly from memory despite not having seen it for over a decade.
Surely, if you’re around my age or older, you’ve got something like this in your history. What might that be for you? AGAIN TO THE COMMENTS.
2) Back to an acknowledgment that I am, after all, a washed dad:
I got my start as an #internet #content #creator thanks to Ryan Nanni, who in 2014 invited me to write for the college football blog Every Day Should Be Saturday. Many of you are likely familiar with Ryan’s work on the Shutdown Fullcast podcast, Secret Base and other places, but he’s also got a nascent solo project that I’m enjoying quite a bit, the improvisational podcast Dad Walk.
Ryan’s recently begun taking advantage of Twitter’s new “Spaces” feature to host night periodic nighttime strolls—the titular “Dad Walks”—where he’s brought on friends and strangers for free-flowing chats, including asking them the “most ‘Dad’ thing they’ve done lately”, regardless of gender or actually having children.
Earlier this week, I joined Ryan for one of these chats, discussing home repairs and being too honest with my children. It was fun! The live chats post a few days later as podcasts, and our episode—which also featured Extra Points newsletter tycoon and all-around great guy Matt Brown talking about woodworking—should appear in the feed linked above soon.
I expressed regret last week that I hadn’t had the foresight to request pictures of your pets in costume to share for the Halloween Friday newsletter, but I figure better late than never: you delivered with a masquerading menagerie, and hey, our Halloween decorations are still up, and we’re going to be eating the kids’ candy until March.
First up this week, @BanachSpaceProg has a pair of stylish dogs:
Dogs in costumes: This is Julius, giving my wife and I the side-eye as we try to recreate Matt Berry saying "Bat!”, and Callie, being a regal rainbow.
It took me a second to realize he meant Matt Berry from What We Do In The Shadows and not the ESPN fantasy football guy or the third, not-famous-but-a-good-guy Matt Berry I know. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Anyways, great dogs.
Next up, @JDthoughts has your friendly neighborhood herding dog:
I’m in Denmark and saw a costumed Copenhagen corgi. You may use this on a Friday newsletter, ACB.
[subsequent follow-up email ] For more background info: they don’t celebrate Halloween, apparently. Only saw ~3 children in costume all day and 1 adult who may or may not have just been dressing like that normally.
I think we have to assume that this corgi was not dressed up for Halloween either, then, and is actually a costumed crimefighter. Now, corgis might not be the most athletic dogs, but then, crime is lower in Denmark anyways. So it probably works fine. Great dog.
Finally this week, Eleanor T. shares a VERY special pet to close us out:
For the newsletter, Halloween Pets Edition, I present my niece’s turtle, Turtle, in his pumpkin costume. He may be outraged, he may be mellow, no one can tell. This is his all-purpose facial expression.
I laughed so hard when I opened this email. What a fantastic picture.
Thanks to each of you for sharing, and—as always—thanks to all of you for joining on me on my weekly long-winded journey of food, drink and entertainment. I hope you have a great weekend.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)