Nothing Is Happening This Weekend

And if it were, this would not be a tie-in to it.

Hey! You got any plans this weekend?

[notices a major professional sport’s legal team hovering in the shadows]

[laughs nervously] Well, I certainly don’t!

Nope, there is certainly nothing going on this weekend, no major event that someone who has not been officially licensed to promote might consider riding the coat-tails of by putting together some complementary content. I would never do that, because I respect the legal rights of whatever organization that might be, if there was such a one, which, to my knowledge, there is not.

Incidentally, did you know that this is the 250th newsletter I’ve sent out since I started this project? Can you believe it? What a momentous occasion. I’m going to label this edition of the newsletter ACBN CCL, because I’ve decided to casually use Roman numerals for no clear reason.

Anyways, it’s an ordinary, event-free weekend ahead of us, but I’ve still got some BIG things planned, and I hope you’re GAME for them, because we’re going to have a SUPER ti—

oh crap they spotted us RUN

7) Snacking, at different difficulty levels

I’m not a big video gamer, but when I was younger, I often enjoyed playing a sports game. The problem is, I’m not especially good at these games, nor do I especially care to devote the time required to become good at them. That doesn’t mean I can’t have fun, though. No, my favorite thing to do when firing up a copy of NCAA 2003 (that’s a football game, there’s no football this weekend) was to set the difficulty to “Rookie” and just see how many points I could score in a game throwing deep every play.

Was it overly simplistic? Yes. Was it fun? Also yes.

You might see things differently. You might enjoy challenging yourself at a higher level of play. To each their own. And that very same dynamic plays out in the kitchen, when you’re putting together snacks for your… uh… totally normal Sunday evening snack time. So instead of the usual one recipe idea, today I’ve got three superb ol’ snacks, ranging from “Rookie” (football reference) to “All-Madden” (football reference). You can play as hard or as easy as you’d like this weekend.

ROOKIE LEVEL: THE MOUNTAIN GOATS

Perhaps you’re familiar with the work of John Darnielle, as the singer/songwriter/sole creative force behind beloved indie band The Mountain Goats. Or, maybe you’ve read one of his two excellent novels, Wolf In White Van or Universal Harvester.

Me? I’m a fan of his bold new ideas in snacking.

In case he ever decides to delete this MacArthur-Genius-level-tweet, I’ll copy the text here for posterity:

1 bag Cheetos or generic equivalent, puffy not crunchy kind though crunchy will work in a pinch. Bottle of either Tamazula or Valentina. One lemon, halved. Invert bottle over open bag, dowse generously. Squeeze lemon. Close bag and shake. End boss of chip-style snacks.

This sounded almost too good to be true, but I had to confirm. I used Valentina hot sauce, one of my workhorse favorites, and lime juice instead of lemon.

CONFIRMED. These were extremely good. Slightly messy to the touch, but retained their crisp crunch and were far more flavorful than a pre-made Hot Cheeto.

He’s a renaissance man, folks.

Okay, this looks delicious, but I’d like to put in at least a minimal effort toward cooking.

I’ve got you covered.

ALL-PRO: BLANKS IN A PIGLET

Am I straight-up recycling content from one year ago with this one? Absolutely, and I have no qualms about doing so, because this is one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. Here it goes: take a cheese stick. Take three large slices of pepperoni (the sandwich size cut), and wrap them around the cheese stick. Thread a metal skewer through to hold it in place. Grill or broil until the pepperoni crisps.

BOOM. You got yourself a championship-level snack.

Oh. Oh, you want to actually cook this weekend? Alright, well, you’ve got two primary routes to go for the first Sunday in February: wings or pizza. I’ve got something that’ll spice up both.

ALL-MADDEN: Gochujang Wing/Pizza Sauce

This is tweaked from an excellent recipe created by Louisville-based chef Edward Lee, who used to serve an incredible version of these wings at his restaurant MilkWood, before it was closed and converted to a community kitchen last summer.

After making it several times, I found I liked it with a little more spice and a bit less condensed milk, so here’s the version I landed on:

  • 1/2 cup gochujang

  • 1/2 cup gochugaru chili powder

  • 1/2 cup good quality dark soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

I brought these all to a rolling simmer over medium heat, whisking to combine and slightly thicken. While I’ve made wings with it, where it really shined was as pizza sauce, in riff on Serious Eats’ recipe for Buldak. I assembled a pie using the sauce, chopped smoked chicken thighs and a mixture of fresh and part-skim mozzarella, then topped it with chopped scallions, sesame seeds, and a few of Trader Joe’s exceedingly-hot habanero flakes.

This is a pizza that fights back. We’ll need something to wash it down.

6) We’re all looking for a little jab

I love hosting big gatherings. In the Before Times, there were few things I enjoyed more than making enough food and drink for a few dozen people and having them all gather in my house together at once. Now, obviously, that can’t happen at the moment, or at least it shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t scale down some recipes to size.

One that I’ve had flagged for a while is Charleston-based star chef Sean Brock’s recipe for the “Charleston Light Dragoon Punch 1792”, a classic grog featuring black tea, rum, brandy, lemon juice and raw sugar. Problem is, it’s designed to serve twenty people, and twenty people would be a problem right now.

So, I scaled down the punch to a “jab”, a nod to the jab I so desperately look forward to getting in my arm some day soon. Here’s my miniaturized take on it, which you can prepare the foundational elements of in any quantity and then mix as needed.

Punch Base

  • 2 parts Barbados rum

  • 2 parts brandy

  • 1 part peach brandy

Strong Sweet Tea

  • 2 quarts boiling water

  • 7 bags black tea, steeped for 20 minutes

  • 1* cup raw sugar (*Brock uses two cups here, which I found to be excessively sweet for my Northern-born palate. Your results may vary, but I dialed it back).

To Assemble a Single Drink To Be Consumed At A Responsible Distance From Others:

  • 2 ounces Punch Base

  • 3-1/2 ounces Sweet Tea

  • 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

  • 2 ounces soda water

Pour these all in a tall glass (or jar) over ice, and garnish with strips of lemon zest.

This goes down so dangerously smooth you might just decide to make twenty after all.

5) We’re throwing it back (throwing = football reference)

Normally, my weekly music selections are relatively new, if not hot off the presses. The last couple weeks, though, I’ve fallen back in love with an album that came out 23 years ago and still sounds amazing today: Ozomatli, the self-titled 1998 debut album of the Los Angeles-based Latin/hip-hop/funk group Ozomatli.

The band’s had a number of incarnations over the years, including a recording a kids’ album and a long stint as the house band for a stand-up comedy television show. Much of it has been good, but none quite as perfect as this, a pseudo-collaboration that sees venerable hip-hop group Jurassic 5’s Chali 2Na and Cut Chemist playing major roles.

Anyways, here’s a song that references nothing in particular.

By the way, if you create a Spotify Radio station off any track from this album, you will end up in a terrific wormhole of late-’90s hip-hop and indie music.

4) WHAT’S IN THE BOOOOOOOX

Halftime!

It’s time for a promotion.

Every Friday in these pages, I recommend things to you—things that I like, things that I think you’ll like. Sometimes they’re food or drink, sometimes they’re books or kitchen gadgets, sometimes they’re completely out of left field.

Today, instead of just recommending things, I want to give you things.

I’ve assembled the first round of The Action CookBox, something that may or may not become a recurring promotion, depending on how well this one goes. Each box contains a specially-curated selection of items, many of which I’ve featured on here before; a book, some culinary and cocktail-related items, a favorite kitchen tool, some hot-off-the-presses Action Cookbook stickers—a total retail value of around $100.

Today, I’m doing a drawing for THREE of these boxes as a thank-you to the paying subscribers to this newsletter. Speaking of which, are you a paying subscriber? You should consider becoming one. For only $5/month or $50/year, you get all three weekly emails, including the action-packed Friday editions (which normally go to paying subscribers only). Subscribe before Sunday evening, and I’ll include you in this drawing, too.

Here’s how I’ll conduct these drawings:

First, sign up with this Google Form to be entered in the drawing. (UPDATE 2/8/21: Entries are now closed for this first go-around, but the response has been positive enough that I am likely to continue this promotion in the future. Stay tuned!)

(Please sign up using the same email you’re subscribed to the email under.)

  • All paying subscribers will be entered in a random drawing for one box

  • All yearly subscribers will be entered in the drawing for the second box, too

  • All subscribers at the “Booster” level (that is, those incredibly generous people who chose to pay more than $50/year) will be entered in the drawing for the third box. (So, three chances.)

I’ll announce winners in next Friday’s email and send out these delightful packages right away.

BY THE WAY

You can now follow me on Instagram at @actioncookbook, after I’ve converted a long-private account to something more public. It will, unsurprisingly, mostly be photos of food, drink, and dogs.

3) Hey, you know, there actually are sports this weekend, and sports aren’t always great to us.

This has been a difficult past year to be a sports fan. The priorities behind the sports we love have been laid bare for all to see, and the lack of humanity that often permeates them harder than ever to deny. How can you care about sports when the people behind them don’t care about you?

That’s the premise behind the excellent Loving Sports When They Don't Love You Back: Dilemmas of the Modern Fan, a recent book by Jessica Luther and Kavitha Davidson dedicated “to every fan who loves sports and just wants them to do and be better”.

The authors rightly reject the nonsense that is “sticking to sports” with a series of thoughtful essays on subjects including “Cheering For A Team with a Racist Mascot” (something I, a native Clevelander, am well-versed in), “Rooting For Your Team When The Star Is Accused of Domestic Violence”, and “Embracing That Athletes—and Sports—Are Political”. It’s not always easy reading, but it’s worthwhile if you love sports but feel the conflicts so many of us do about the darker side of what we love.

2) Hey, I Want To Watch Some Problematic Rich People Fight Each Other This Weekend, But I Don’t Like Football

You should binge Succession, then.

I’m a latecomer to the party here, but HBO’s serial drama/comedy following the boardroom machinations of the mega-rich family of Rupert Murdoch-like media magnate Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox at his curmudgeonly best), is absolutely riveting. It’s like Mad Men but with far worse people, and I love them all.

I love Cousin Greg most of all, though.

He’s got a point.

Okay, let’s end on a high note. Whatever you’re doing this weekend, whether it be watching football, getting time outdoors, or anything else, I hope you’re doing it safely, responsibly, and with a beloved animal at your side. Let’s visit with some very special animals that you’ve been so kind as to share with me.

1) The True Superstars of the Weekend

First up, I have to share whole the back-and-forth exchange that took place when reader Elizabeth C. sent me her very good dog.

ELIZABETH: This is Xoco. He’s a three year old hairless xolo mix that truly embodies teenage punk rock angst. Here’s a picture of him sporting his natural mohawk while wearing his favorite onesie, which he chewed the sleeves off. I suspect he’s gazing into the distance day-dreaming about which blanket he wants to nap on then destroy next. 

ME: This might be the first dog picture I’ve received that would double as an album cover. What a good boy!

ELIZABETH: Oh wow! You’re definitely right. I might have to mock up an album cover for his newly formed band The Good Boys.

ELIZABETH, 30 MINUTES LATER: Best use of 30 minutes this entire pandemic.

I could not have been more pleased with how this all transpired. What an extremely good dog. Please give him a Grammy, or some other more respectable award.

Next up, Tim D. shares a cat who’s quite the [puts on sunglasses] catch:

My wife and I adopted Oscar about 4 1/2 years ago from a softball teammate of ours, who had rescued his litter when the mother abandoned her kittens in the teammate's backyard.  He's grown into quite the dapper gentleman.

[picking up the phone] ROB. ROB MANFRED. IT’S ACTION. ACTION COOKBOOK. YOU KNOW HOW NO ONE LIKES BASEBALL BECAUSE OF YOU? WELL LISTEN… TO THIS: [holds phone up to this picture]

I mean what a remarkably good cat. Here he is all grown up and handsome, btw:

Finally this week, Kevin W. shares a moment that, if it had happened to me, might have displaced the birth of at least one of my children in the ranking of top moments of my life:

Hi Scott,

I've hesitated to send you this picture because I have no idea whose dogs these are. I'm sending it anyway because I figure a large portion of this community experiences the same joy I do when encountering unexpected dogs. My wife and I were hiking in Vermont this fall and these two beauties were just chilling at the top of a mountain. I don't even know if they belonged to anybody up there, but their ultra-relaxed presence was the perfect complement to one of our rare serene moments in 2020.

P.S. I know they weren't Abe Simpson's dogs because they were "just lying around, never working, without a care in [their] head, full of long, luxurious, [doggy] hair." I probably repeated that line a dozen times that day once it hit me.

This is the most peaceful picture I have ever seen. What very good and possibly magical dogs. Thank you for sharing it with us all.

And thank you to everyone else who contributes this week and every week to ending this email on an unabashedly good note. I appreciate you making The Action Cookbook Newsletter a part of your week, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)

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