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Covid Confessions: Confections, Crackers and Corporate Food

Posted by CMH Gourmand on August 22, 2021

One score and 500 days ago a global pandemic brought froth a new plague to this nation.  It could have been an opportunity to unify to fight a common foe, but it quickly devolved into another offshoot of the culture wars.  So here we are today, few of us sadder, very few of us wiser and so many people gone before their time.

I have had this post on the back burner all of 2021.  I was waiting for the right moment to drop this to my 43 fans.  Well, the criteria kept changing.  End of the pandemic….nope. The date Ohio hit herd immunity – negative. Griffin completing a whole week of Kindergarten….not even close.  The day we used up all of our pandemic meat supply…..I just found some sausages buried at the back of the freezer. So today, I have decided that it is the week that CMH Spouse and CMH Griffin have two negative Covid Tests in a row so we can end quarantine a bit sooner.

The year 2020 started out with great promise.  After years of running Columbus Brew Adventures, I was ready to go to new adventures and very much looking forward to spending more time with my family.  Brew Adventures created many opportunities and connected to me to countless wonderful people. It also allowed me to do what I enjoy which is study a new culture, learn it’s mores and traditions and eventually hope to be accepted into yet another tribe, this time the community of craft brewers, distillers and their ilk. Brew Adventures gave me the flexibility during the week to make my son school and other schedules work. The trade off was most weekends away from my wife and son and that much time away had become untenable and less profitable. So as 2020 dawned, I was looking forward to more family time.  I certainly got that.

In mid March I sat alone at the bar of Rockmill Tavern. The first elements of the lockdowns were getting ready to be implemented which canceled guide training for a tour I created, the Brewery District Walking Tour.  I had planned to help start things off right for the season then ride off into the sunset.  That did not happen.  I did decide to pass out old Hoster Brewing bottles as thank you gifts for my veteran guide team.  I figured it could be a month or two before I saw them again (wrong) and I wanted to complete my hand off’s so I could feel I accomplished something for the weekend. I wore a new mask my wife made for me the night before when I headed down to the rendezvous.

I sat at Rockmill’s bar talking to John at the bar. He comped me a my favorite sandwich (to celebrate a hoped for return of tour season) of the era, the Spicy Chicken Sandwich so I bought a beer and tipped more than appropriately.  It would be my last meal inside a restaurant.  (John would go on to be the manager at Rockmill working many a 100 hour week, then Rockmill closed for summer of 2021 but has a planned return in the fall). Between bites, I handed off the bottles – mostly on the sidewalk.  When I finally walked out the door around 2 pm that Saturday – I looked down Front Street to the right and saw no cars or people.  I looked to the left and saw the same.  One thought came to mind.  We are fucked.  This was clearly going to last more than a month.

I drove home along empty highways and looked for more stay in place supplies as I pulled off 315 getting ready for the lockdown after I closed the garage door.

I’m sure I’m adding to the cliches of Covid but it did change the lives of myself and my family. We are now well beyond a year of the strange, surreal days of the beginning of the shutdown. I recall coming home from work and never going back, being excited to find a pack of napkins when all the paper towels were gone, calling my friends when I found disinfectant wipes off the beaten path at Lowes. We partnered with our neighbors to maximize grocery runs and shared supplies. My wife made over a 1000 masks in record time. I watched friends lose their jobs, businesses and outlook on the world.

I also watched people dig in, double down, reinvent themselves or their businesses while keeping calm and carrying on. The moment that made the pandemic the most…real…. to me was when we had to cancel our joint family weekend in the Hocking Hills with our old neighbors.  No O’Betty’s, No Little Fish, No West End Cider House, No Avalanche Pizza, No fun, No (Lake) Hope.

If you want to read the diary of the restaurant that white-knuckled it through the downs, speed bumps, and more downs of the last 500 plus days, check out the Instagram feed of Smokehouse Brewing which provides a daily play by play of what it is like run a restaurant and brewery when all forces are focused against you.

As the contrarian that I am, in 2020 when everyone else was gaining the obligatory Covid ten pounds, I dropped thirty.  I then put on much more than that when restaurants started to reopen in 2021.

There were some unusual and unexpected things that were good for the morale of our family.  The best decision of record in the Covid era was 100% from my wife – a giant inflatable swimming pool which she bought the second the lock down was announced, they were unavailable a few weeks later. It ensured we all had a little exercise and a lot of recreation and it became the only effective way for CMH Child to engage in Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy – there is a lot you can do with Zoom, two parents and a pool with our outstanding team from Bridgeway.

As a family we had worked hard to get Griffin to the right school for him and Covid took that off the table quickly just after the positives of that decision were starting to kick in – online school sessions were an effort in futility for us.  We had worked hard before Covid to limit his screen time for many reasons, but eventually as spring started to wane, we had to relent.  This was a difficult and stressful pill for me to swallow.  And this meant much more exposure to childhood programming which I despise.  I’d rather watch four hours of Fox News than one episode of Ryan’s Playhouse, Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig, or the ilk.  One night as I was in the other room in a deep mental fog, I heard some familiar Australian accented phrases in the background.  I wandered into our living room to see a family of cartoon dogs.  I was saved by Bluey which I view as highly as Calvin and Hobbes. This is an absolutely perfect cartoon for children to watch.  The writing is good.  The humor is universal.  I never feel pandered to and the associated merchandise is very limited. The show models functional family behavior without feeling like someone reviewing the script said, “Oh, shit, we forgot to throw in an insincere 10 second value lesson in this episode.”  For me, it reminds me of an earlier era when I was a wayward traveler roaming Australia as often as I could.  There are many episodes of Bluey I have watched at least thirty times and I gladly look forward to watching a hundred more times. For those inclined to “give this show a go” my favorite episodes in order are: 1) Sleepytime, 2) Dunny, 3) Baby Race and 4) Ice Cream.

I listen(ed) to a lot of Pandora while working from home, not uncommonly with a sick child in the next room.  My very unexpected Pandora station which accounts for 90% of my listening time is Rox Radio which is almost exclusively British Female R&B singers of the last last two decades: Rox, Sade, Duffy and the like.  Strange to most, but true.  Have no fear, I still get Metallica and Iron Maiden in sufficient, although occasional, doses.

Now on to food, which is what we are here for.  What is my truest Covid confessions? Skittles.  I had forgotten about Skittles, those round little bursts of fruit flavor.  I’m not sure how the first bag found it’s way into our locked down home.  It could have been a left over from a neuron mapping exercise my wife does with her AP Psychology students but I can assure you over the last 500 days, we have never been a Skittleless home.

Next and this is specifically for me, Hershey Special Dark with Almonds Nuggets. The Special Dark Bar became part of the Hershey’s line up in 1971.  My first exposure to it came among the piles of Halloween candy during my youth.  The Hershey’s miniatures were always a mild disappointment when found among regular sized Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, Mini Almond Joys, Popcorn balls and bullseye candies.  The small, bite sized bars where viewed as the cheap man’s way out of bringing joy to the preteen masses.  However, I always hoped for mini Mr. Goodbars and  during those not so wonder years, the Special Dark Bars.  I would gladly trade 2-3 of the standard Hersey Miniature chocolates or offer an even one on one exchange of a Krackle for a Special Dark with my prepubescent peers. I liked the exotic nature of the Special Dark and I would save them to savor as the last of my Halloween loot. I also figured out these were great dipped into a jar of Skippy peanut butter. In my twenties, when I discovered dark chocolate was not so hard to to come by, the Special Dark became an afterthought. However, during Covid shortages, I found that Kroger was never short of Special Dark Nuggets because most people did not discover what I did in their misspent youth.

I then realized, I had never put any thought into what made Special Dark special. It is not like Hershey has a Regular Dark, Undervalued Dark bar or Cleveland Browns Bar. As it turns out, from 1939 to 1971, the bar we know as Special Dark was called Hershey’s Semi-Sweet bar. Clearly the name change was needed.  The Special Dark Bar has higher percentage (45%) of  cocoa solids, chocolate liquor and cocoa butter than milk chocolate. So it is indeed special.  Add in a sliver of an almond as found in the nuggets and it is practically a health food.  

What I found I missed the most during our restricted interaction with the world of restaurants was Taco Trucks and authentic Mexican Food.  In my last in store shopping run at the beginning of the Pandemic I picked up a discounted bottle of Herdez Guacamole Salsa.  It quickly found itself buried in oblivion in our pantry until one day when I was desperate to eat something remotely different from our standard fare.  I hoped for the best when I dumped the Guacamole Salsa on a pile of hastily made nachos.  I was instantly surprised by the flavor and light, spicy heat of this product.  Then I decided it was worth trying again so using the power of online ordering at Kroger I looked for other Herdez salsas I might like as well.  I tried several and never felt any were a bad decision.  In fact, when I look at the very important quality to price ratio that I apply to all mass produced products, I think Herdez is hard to beat. Tied for first on my Herdez Hierarchy is the Queso Blanco Dip. The price is right.  The heat is just enough without overpowering anything else and in a dire emergency it goes great on potato chips.

Not featured in the photo with this post but a rediscovery nonetheless, Wheat Thins.  We always have a box on hand.  They don’t go stale, they don’t break easily and they are never hard to find at a store. They were not a pre pandemic staple but in our house there are now a few things we always have a spare of: loaf of bread, toilet paper, paper towels, peanut butter, Parmesan cheese and Wheat Thins.

There have been other discoveries along the way.  For pick up meals, we have yet to find anyone that does better than Iaconos Pizza and Cuco’s for ease and speed from order to pick up. Kroger and Giant Eagle curbside services have been a valued asset to our family and something that will persist after the pandemic is really over. The biggest discovery is not mind shattering but important.  I have been embedded with my wife, son and my wife’s dog almost 24/7 for well over a year and I would not trade that for anything.  I don’t want to kill them and they don’t want to kill me (however my wife does watch a lot of Dateline episodes and listens to an insane number of true crime podcasts). I don’t think all families, pods or domestic partnerships feel that way after 500 and counting days embedded together.

What are your Covid discoveries, confections, connections or conundrums you care to share?

4 Responses to “Covid Confessions: Confections, Crackers and Corporate Food”

  1. Timothy Kennedy said

    Great post Jim! A couple months ago I was encouraged (& vaxxed FINALLY) thinking we would soon see the back of COVID. Alas, no. The damn thing is just going to keep mutating and circulating doing its Malthus best to reduce the population. Be safe. Eat well. Keep us posted. Tim

  2. Cindy Leland said

    My daughter and I loved working from home during COVID. We cooked a lot and beat the crap out of the kitchen, laughed constantly, and still get along great. I learned that I can get along with only one grocery run a week. And we hate being back at the office full time. Also, Herdez medium is my all time favorite salsa–I go through bottles and bottles of the stuff.

  3. Delonda Mayle said

    Funny, we have a bag of Hershey dark chocolate nuggets with almonds currently on our counter (and Herdez salsa in the fridge)! But, for me, the resealable bag of plain M&M’s became my cupboard staple over the past 17 months. Need just a couple to satisfy a sweet tooth? Or a couple dozen? Covered.
    I, too, lost weight in lockdown, thanks to lots of walks and not eating out. Counting steps was a pastime.
    But, like you, gained it back as we started visiting restaurants again. A favorite restaurant treat during early Covid (aside from pizza pick-up from the great spots all over town), was Mi Tradicion in Gahanna, which has fabulous food, and as a former bank, has a drive thru!
    Quality family time was the best part of lockdown, of course. I will treasure the notebook filled with scorekeeping tallies for the 100’s of Quirkle games played with my teenager in those months!

    • Mi Tradicion in Gahanna – noted! Also, working from home was probably value added for people that prefer to wear shorts 365 days per year….in perfect world.

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