Dec 10, 2014

Tavern Tours and Turkey Day - November Self Actualization

I'm reaching the home stretch of my self actualization project!  For November, I squeezed a couple things in at the very last minute.  We'll start with the less thrilling adventure.

Some Non-Turkey

Thanksgiving.  I made it.  And it was good!

Having never hosted Thanksgiving before, I had some doubts.  In the past, I've been a terrible multi-tasker.  For example, when I make a big breakfast with omelets, sausage, hash browns, and toast, I'll invariably forget the hash browns or the toast.

So I prepared pretty extensively.  I had lists.  Shopping lists.  Recipe lists (for reference.  That's another quirk.  I always have to adapt, even though I'm not a great cook).  Oven timing lists.

I did a lot of prep work the night before, and even with some last minute house-cleaning Thanksgiving morning, so my mother wouldn't be too disgusted with us, everything was completed at just the right time.

Disclaimer: I did NOT make a turkey.  We ended up with 5 people, instead of the expected 3, but none of us are huge fans of turkey, so it's silly to go to all that trouble and then have to eat leftovers we don't actually want.  So my mom got some smoked turkey and brisket from a BBQ place instead and I made all the sides, which is really the good stuff.

What I did make (and how I adapted it):

  • Pineapple Yam Casserole - I couldn't find canned yams, so I boiled them the night before and then threw in the stuff I wanted (nuts, marshmallows, and a drizzle of caramel sauce).  Basically the recipe just gave me the cook time.
  • Green Bean Casserole - Evidently the recipe for this is on the back of the French Fried Onions.  Who knew?!  Anyway, most of the recipes I found wanted cheddar cheese on it, but my family's never done it that way, so I just skipped it.
  • Aunt Shirl's Potatoes - Family recipe.  I followed this one, but my family tends to use a shallower pan, which increases surface area for the parmesan cheese, which is the most delicious part.  Oh, I also used no-fat half and half, not to be healthy, but because the grocery store didn't have the regular stuff.  Turned out fine anyway.
  • Stuffing - Made from scratch!  Which my family doesn't really do.  I looked at a couple recipes, and referenced them for cook time, but basically picked the ingredients from each that I wanted.  Ended up using French bread (a loaf that I tore apart by hand - turns out that's fairly time consuming), celery, onion, chestnuts, an egg, and chicken broth.  Oh, and some dried seasonings that I no longer recall.  Note: chestnuts are a huge pain in the a** and I will not be using those again.  Tasty, though.  Overall, it wasn't super flavorful, but that's more because I actually showed restraint with my spices, for once, and it went well with the other things, so I'd call it a win.
  • Cornbread - There's 3 recipes on the back of the corn meal bag.  I did a cross between the regular cornbread and the honey sweet cornbread.  Basically extra sugar, some vanilla, honey, and less oil.
  • Pumpkin Pie - For some reason I keep accidentally buying sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated milk, even though the recipe is right ON THE CAN of the pumpkin.  So I found a recipe that used the stuff I had bought.  It was for only one pie, instead of 2, but, as per usual, there was a fair amount of extra (I always have at least half a cup of extra stuff - not sure what that's about), so I added the extra pumpkin I had, and we had slightly less sweet pie.  It actually worked out fairly well - I think the sweetened condensed milk recipe would normally make sweeter pie than we're used to so using one container for 2 pies was ideal.
My oven's not that big so I made the cornbread and the pie the night before, and then everything else fit snugly.  I'm still somewhat shocked that the timing worked out so well.  Also, Roommate and his girlfriend were still around, so they ate with us, despite having additional Thanksgiving dinners to attend later on, so that was nice.  And we got to laugh at Roommate, who was so hung-over that he couldn't even partake of the non-alcoholic sparkling cider.

Now that I'm done babbling about food, the important stuff - booze!

The Taverns!

Some friends had mentioned the Grim Philly tavern tour, which in late November/December is Christmas themed.  I thought it was an awesome idea, despite their somewhat shady and horrendous website, but timing with that group didn't work out, so we ended up inviting one of Ryan's coworkers and his wife.

There was some initial confusion when the confirmation email said to print and bring our "tickets" but did not actually provide any tickets.  When we called, they said the email was the "ticket."

Of course, we totally forgot to do that and brought nothing, but it turned out it was completely unnecessary, as anyone walking up who knew the name of someone who had registered was freely given wristbands.

We arrived early at the meeting place, a sushi bar, so we could partake of the food and drink specials available before the tour.  I thought the sushi was delicious and was quite prepared to become inebriated and happy.

The tour began by everyone collecting their wristbands and then sitting back down as history of the pagan roots of contemporary Christmas traditions was shouted to us across the crowded bar.  It was funny, and crude, and our host was amusingly quirky (even more so when we found out his day job was teaching at a college).

He also did some trivia, awarding correct answers with shots from his own bottle of buttershots, whilst passing out seemingly random snacks, like unopened jars of peanuts.

Tour guide with his bottle of buttershots

We collected our first free drink (cider and Jager - blegh), toasted, "Wassail!  Drink hale!"  And then trooped in a disorganized mass down the street, following our guide.

After a few blocks, I began to be alarmed, as the group was spreading further and further apart, and the guide continued shambling along without ever looking back.  But my concern was alleviated when he stopped and waited at a cross walk that half the group hadn't crossed in time.

When we reached the 2nd stop, a pub, he finally addressed again, calling out a few fun facts about Benjamin Franklin, who had lived across the street.  He also gave us a rundown, promising some "stuff" at the end.

The 2nd bar was less fun; quiet enough that we were all able to hear it when a couple members of our tour group began to belligerently complain that, "The management at this bar sucks.  They don't treat their customers right."  Ryan's coworker spent some time talking to the manager, assuring him that our entire group wasn't made up of assholes, and that we were perfectly happy with what was going on in our corner.  But it still reminded me how much I hated working in the service industry.

We were given more snacks, less random this time - gingerbread cookies and peppermint sticks.  And our free drink was actually provided by the bar and not something that the tour guide poured out.

Eventually, we all meandered over to the 3rd location, a moonshine bar, expecting some kind of history, or introduction from our guide.  He basically pointed us to the back, where some food was made available, and then left us to our own devices.  I proceeded to drink more than I needed to, all the while happily awaiting the final round of trivia and another chance to win a Santa hat.  Finally, when most of our group had drifted out a few hours later, I realized the tour was over.

To sum up: It was a bit disorganized, all the "tour" stuff was at the beginning, and some of our peers were belligerent jerks.  I think it was worth doing, but I definitely wouldn't pay to do it again.

We did have a lot of fun and it was nice to get to know the couple we went with.  They're Philly residents, so they were able to fill in some of the gaps in the tour information, and handled most of the driving (which was nice!).  Afterwards we went back to their home and played Mario Kart (which is way harder after a bar crawl).

Here's the very little, vague bits of trivia that I remembered (not claiming accuracy - from an unreliable source and also unreliable retention method):
  • Gingerbread men originated because of some culture's tradition of human sacrifice.  They swapped out the sacrifices for little gingerbread men (which is much more humane, don't you think?)
  • Something about Odin being an influence in some version of Santa at some point
  • The Germanic version of Santa was Belsnickel, who carried a birch rod to beat naughty children with.  A little more forceful than coal!
  • Jesus was more likely born sometime in the spring, but in order to combine Christian beliefs with the pagan traditions (for easier conversion), they moved it to the Winter Solstice.
  • Santa started out tall and thin, wearing all white.  Coca Cola is responsible for the red outfit, which was introduced for one of their marketing campaigns (the power of marketing is scary sometimes, some of our "culture" like engagement rings and ladies shaving their legs is only commonplace because of clever marketing).  Then, some other company's marketing campaign softened him up even more and made him rosy and chubby.
  • Something about Black Pete's, which was the racist lore that said Santa's helpers were 2 black men who would kidnap the naughty children for a lifetime of servitude.
  • Basically history is crazy, and we've believed so very many strange things over the years.  I wonder what future generations will think is incredibly strange or stupid that we believe now?

Terrible, fuzzy picture of Ryan and me in the first bar, with festive Santa hat behind us.


Have you been on a tavern tour before?  Did they actually talk about the bars in the tour?

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