Sandwich of the Week

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Three straight burgers, all of them on identical pretzel rolls? Yes. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s a freakin’ global pandemic. I’ll try to mix it up next week, but I’ve apparently got more ground beef than Wendy’s does right now and I’m aiming to make good use of it.

The sandwich: The Great Caesar’s Ghost Burger. That’s what I’m calling it.

The construction: Two ground-beef patties, made with ground beef from Crowd Cow (which is providing more or less all my meat right now, and where we both can get $25 worth of meat if you use my referral code), with bacon, cucumbers, melted Babybel cheese, and a sauce I’ll tell you more about in the next section.

Why Babybel cheese? Because I had some in my fridge, my kid doesn’t seem to like it quite as much for a snack as he likes cheddar cheese sticks, and because I figured (accurately) it would melt well. Slicing it up into enough pieces to cover the surface of a burger patty was kind of a pain in the ass.

I still have no idea if there’s any actual science behind the idea of making “smashburgers” instead of just forming burgers into patties and throwing them on the grill, but I found a recipe online that boldly called for mixing melted butter into the ground beef so I mostly followed that for the burgers. I didn’t have any Worcestershire sauce on hand, so I replaced it with a mixture of soy sauce and hot sauce. I did have fish sauce on hand and I’ve been looking for an excuse to get rid of it, so I incorporated it, per the recipe, even though I find the smell of fish sauce extremely unpleasant. I know that I love a lot of foods made with fish sauce, but I think I prefer it as a don’t ask, don’t tell type of thing.

Important background information: I’m not about to aimlessly wander the grocery store looking for inspiration right now, so instead I turned to the wealth of mostly empty condiment bottles on my refrigerator door. And while looking them over, it struck me that, where blue cheese dressing and ranch dressing and certainly Russian dressing are very often used as dips or spreads, we pretty much only use Caesar dressing for Caesar salads. I’ve had chicken Caesar wraps, for sure, but I think those are the only sandwiches I’ve ever had with that particular salad dressing on top.

Why? It’s delicious.

For this sauce, I was essentially looking to create the Caesar dressing equivalent of Buffalo Ranch — something that married the creamy texture and tangy flavor of the dressing with a spicy, vinegary hot sauce.

I started by mixing Caesar dressing, Cholula and black pepper, but after tasting it decided it needed something sweet in there to take some of the edge off. So I mixed in some relish. Is that weird? Definitely sounds weird, but it turns out to be a pretty delicious sauce.

What it looks like:

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It’s smiling back at you.

How it tastes: Pretty damn good.

First things first, I did a nice job on the burger patties. When you’re cooking them over a super hot cast-iron grill, as I am, it sort of requires a leap of faith to pull them as quickly as you need to pull them. I did not let these linger on the heat, and I think my timing and all the butter that was mixed in to the beef conspired to make for a deliciously juicy burger.

Babybel cheese, in a pinch, turns out to be a fine, if mild, burger cheese. It offered some creaminess and some saltiness, but its flavor mostly lingered in the background behind the more powerful ones, like bacon. Bacon remains excellent. Really can’t say enough about bacon.

I tweeted a photo of this burger yesterday, and a couple of people criticized my use of pickle slices on the burger. These people are flat-out wrong, and their closed-mindedness is negatively affecting their enjoyment of this world. I first encountered sliced cucumbers on a burger at a McDonald’s in China, of all places, but I took note even there that they were a surprisingly tasty way to add texture. I love pickles, too, and I’m not here to bash pickles. But pickles — and I’m sorry if I’m the one to break this to you — are cucumbers, and it’s bizarre that some people might only see cucumbers as an acceptable burger topping if they’re brined.

And the sauce, if I do say so myself, is delicious. It definitely maintains that unmistakable cheesy, tangy Caesar flavor, but it’s also spicy, and it tastes totally appropriate on a burger. I’d make this sauce again, and probably will, seeing as I still have Caesar, Cholula and relish in the fridge.

The main thing holding the burger back is the presence of the fish sauce. I didn’t tell my wife it was in there until after she finished eating, and she said she hadn’t noticed. But I totally noticed. I still enjoyed the burger, but every now and then I got a fish-sauce aftertaste that I wished wasn’t involved. I think I might have still had the smell of fish sauce on my hands.

Hall of fame? Nope, just a really good burger.

Tapping out

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I’ll keep this brief because I don’t feel great about preaching willful ignorance, and I think that’s what I’m about to do.

When the COVID shutdown started, I found myself spending every second I could plugged into my phone, scrolling Twitter and refreshing the New York Times app for the latest on the spread of the virus, its effects, its presumed causes, and what I was supposed to be doing about it. For a while, it felt like keeping as tuned in to the news as possible was the only option I had for staying connected to the world around me, stuck as I was inside my apartment.

All things considered, I had a really nice weekend this past weekend. The weather was beautiful, my wife wasn’t working, we got fancy-pants pizza from Emmy Squared and had a picnic in the park, I met up with a former co-worker for a social-distanced walk, and both evenings, my family made it to a nearby corner where people (safely) congregate and dance around huge speakers that blast festive music for the daily 7 p.m. clap. We’re settled into this grim groove now.

Yesterday, while my kid entertained himself with puzzles and his sandbox, I actually read a book. It was novel in multiple senses of the term. I normally only read fiction before bed, and though the book itself was a heartbreakingly bleak one, the act of reading it still proved a whole lot more pleasant than seeing people on Twitter shame strangers for not following the rules of the ‘rona.

This morning, I woke up early and opened the Times app out of habit. The first story I read told of how children who’ve been infected with COVID-19 sometimes develop mysterious, comprehensive and devastating side-effects. Later, while I waited for my kid to use the potty so we could go outside, I checked Twitter and read a long and well-intentioned but scold-y thread about how young adults who may think they’re safe from the disease will in fact die painful, lonely deaths if they don’t distance themselves. When my kid drew in chalk on a park path, I checked my phone and saw a notification with the phrase “relentless crush of infection and death.”

Maybe I’m good on the news for a while? I know I’m going to hear about it if and when somebody cures this godawful thing, and I don’t need to see a million articles and tweets explaining why I should avoid getting the coronavirus because I’m already doing my damnedest to avoid getting the coronavirus. I feel comfortable assuming that the president is taking precisely all the worst and dumbest and greediest actions imaginable in the face of the pandemic, and I certainly don’t need to read about that every day.

I know I’m not good enough to completely divorce myself from the news. I know I’m going to check Twitter. I know I’m going to click on some of the alerts that pop up on my phone. But am I wrong to start consciously trying to avoid those things? I’m just tired of what they have to offer right now.

So, uhh, anyone know any good books?

A-Rod, buy the freakin’ Mets already

arod-boatWe have to agree to mostly leave J-Lo out of all this whole thing. She’s too good for this world: Too indisputably successful, and too widely beloved. And I don’t want to diminish her in any way — I recognize that her net worth is perhaps greater than A-Rod’s and that she undoubtedly maintains more earning potential, but I feel like we all can agree that J-Lo would certainly not be in the market for the New York Mets were she not married to Alex Rodriguez. Right? This is clearly A-Rod’s thing.

And I don’t think there’s a realistic chance A-Rod winds up owning any part of the Mets. I think a lot of non-rich people tend to put all famously rich people in the same rich-person bucket, but A-Rod’s $400-plus million career earnings would be a decent week for Jeff Bezos.

A-Rod’s not pulling together enough cash to buy the Mets unless he crews up with a bunch of significantly richer people, and if all those richer people wanted to own the Mets so badly, I don’t know why they’d need A-Rod involved as a figurehead. Derek Jeter he is not.

Also, an ownership group fronted by A-Rod would, like any other, need to be approved by 29 other MLB owners, and it seems difficult to imagine the 29 other MLB owners letting A-Rod and his friends into their very exclusive club.

There’s just definitely some exorbitantly rich hedge-fund guy out there who’s a way more palatable choice for them. Steve Cohen, for example. Does Steve Cohen have some shady financial machinations on his resume? Heck yeah. Do you really think that disqualifies him in the eyes of MLB owners in the same way as, say, buying HGH gummies off a fake doctor in a South Florida tanning salon? A-Rod is Jay Gatsby and MLB teams are exclusively owned by Tom Buchanans. He’s trying his best to fit in, but he’s never going to fit in.

But all that said, no two forces in the baseball world have quite the capacity for gobsmacking absurdity as the New York Mets and Alex Rodriguez, and the potential marriage is too perfect to ignore. Both the Mets and A-Rod have had a lot more success than their reputations suggest, but the Mets are that team that can finish within three wins of a world championship and still come out of it a punchline, and A-Rod is that guy who can hit 696 Major League homers and marry freakin’ J-Lo and still somehow seem dorkier than anyone I hang out with.

To be clear: I don’t think A-Rod would be an especially good owner for the Mets, in terms of their on-field performance. He’d probably represent at least a mild upgrade over the Wilpons, in that at least his personnel meddling would presumably come with a better eye for baseball talent, but there just seems no way an A-Rod-led conglomerate would help the Mets to more championships than a ruthless, shrewd, bored guy with infinite wealth, like Steve Cohen.

But to love the Mets, and to love A-Rod, is not to love championship baseball so much as it is to love chaos and ludicrousness and sublime self-sabotage, and to appreciate the full meaning of humanity in way you never could by loving the Yankees and Derek Jeter. A-Rod needs to buy the Mets not because it’d be good for either party but because it would be fucking hilarious, and we are here to be entertained.

Friday Q&A

Here we go. First, a couple from the inbox.

Josh writes:

You mention in today’s post that you recently ordered a Cheesy Gordita Crunch with Flamin’ Hot Doritos Taco inside – this leads me to wonder:  is Taco Bell’s original Double Decker Taco their greatest ever food innovation?  (Per the Wiki, the Double Decker Taco dates back to 1995 and was, as far as I know, the first time they offered an item with a hard shell taco inside a less fragile soft shell of any kind.)

So, it depends on how you look at it. Many credit Taco Bell founder Glen Bell with the invention of the pre-formed hard-shell taco, but it turns out pre-formed hard-shell tacos existed long before Glen Bell entered the Mexican-inspired American fast food game, and that he may have just totally ripped off the idea and claimed it as his own.

But there’s little doubt that Taco Bell played a huge role in the dissemination and proliferation of the pre-formed hard-shell taco. The logical parallel here is Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley absolutely did not invent rock and roll, but for better or worse, he was responsible for a whole lot of people finding out about it for the first time.

So if you want to credit Taco Bell for the pre-formed hard-shell taco, it’s impossible to argue that the Double Decker Taco is a bigger innovation — it wouldn’t be possible or necessary without the crunchy taco inside. But failing that, yeah, I think shoving a crunchy tortilla inside of a soft one is probably the best and most important of many incredible gifts Taco Bell has provided us. Once upon a time, there was no way to eat a crunchy taco while driving. Then someone came up with one, and they used it as a way to put Shaq and Hakeem Olajuwon on a tandem bike for the commercial.

The Double Decker Taco is not currently on menus, a great shame. But the Cheesy Gordita Crunch obviously stands on the shoulders of that giant.

Via email, Steven writes:

Where do you stand on the DH in the National League? I like the idea that I can watch more older, limited players hit and my Mets have a handful of candidates.

This is the mildest take: I like the DH rules as they currently exist, even though they make no sense. It’s fun to me that there’s this slight difference between the leagues, and though I think it does give AL teams a mild advantage in interleague and postseason play, it’s clearly not an insurmountable one. Some pitchers hate hitting, but others love it, and at so many levels below the professional ones, the best pitchers tend to be the best hitters on their teams.

But the universal DH is pretty clearly coming. Pitching is so difficult and requires so much preparation that it makes sense to protect pitchers from the batter’s box and basepaths, the union loves it because it helps prolong veteran players’ careers (and the union is always kinder to and more protective of veterans than young players), and I suspect in 25 years, no one will miss the era of pitchers hitting.

A good argument I’ve seen in favor of the universal DH is this one: It gives AL teams more flexibility in free agency than NL teams have. If an NL team thinks a guy only has a couple years left of being a capable defensive player, it’s going to be reluctant to ink him to a four- or five-year deal. AL teams get the comfort of knowing they’ll be able to find use for him as long as he can still hit, and a means of periodically resting his legs while he’s still regularly playing the field.

I thought about this one at great length and concluded that, in pretty much all cases, I’d rather have quality fillings over quality bread. And I don’t mean to diminish bread’s importance in the quality of a sandwich, at all. Bread is important and good!

But how many times in your life have you had bread that you’d truly call bad? If the bread is fresh, it’s fine even if it’s bland. There’s a lot of truly gross stuff one might put inside a sandwich, but not that many truly gross things you could build a sandwich on. Perhaps nothing turns my stomach as reliably as the thought of slimy old lunchmeat, but bread that’s a day or two too old is just unpleasantly dry.

I’ve had sandwiches with great bread and underwhelming filling, and I’m rarely convinced they’re an upgrade over bread alone. What is this, France? Get out of here with that single-slice-of-ham nonsense. Meanwhile, several of the sandwiches I’ve presented here in the past few weeks have featured quality fillings and sub-standard bread, and most of them were really good.

Oh, here’s a nice little minefield!

It’s very hard to imagine Jesus being any good at baseball, miracles notwithstanding. Unless Judea had some sports I’m not aware of, I doubt He ever did much overhand throwing in his youth, and people who did not grow up with that motion tend to be pretty terrible at it in adulthood. Also, I’m not sure Jesus ever said anything to suggest he had the type of competitive drive necessary to excel in sports. Right? Blessed are the meek, but they bat ninth.

The obvious answer here is that Jesus should be your head trainer. Anyone who can cure leprosy with his hands could presumably work wonders on a UCL.

Jason Statham, obviously. No shame in dying by Statham’s hand or drop-kick.

I have no idea what’ll happen, but I thought the idea of splitting teams into Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues for one year made sense. It would suck for the handful of teams that still have lousy spring training facilities, but every team would at least have its own facility, and — as I mentioned last time it came up — lots of players have homes near their club’s spring training bases.

But obviously every proposal is pointless until we know they can pull one of them off safely. Baseball rules and I miss it very much, but baseball is a frivolity and not worth risking lives for. This whole Q&A is fraught with complicated topics and I’m not trying to start fights online when I know my kid will wake up and command my full attention in 45 minutes.

It’s obviously trampoline. I want to dunk. And I know you’re about to tell me about all the potential drawbacks and dangers in having every surface I step on magically transform into a trampoline, but did drawbacks and dangers stop King Midas? I’m going to dunk, folks.

 

Sandwich of the Week

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I’ve been thinking a lot about pizza burgers lately, as one does. And the main thing I’ve been thinking about pizza burgers is that I’m not sure I’ve ever had one that wasn’t at least a little bit disappointing. When you attempt to combine two of our very best foods into one, you set expectations enormously high. And too often, I have come out of the pizza-burger experience thinking I’d have preferred a pizza or a burger served independently of one another.

I’ve enjoyed pizza burgers, for sure, as all the standard components — ground beef, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce — are tasty and complementary. But they always seem to lack some necessary oomph: Tomato sauce is too thin to be a perfect burger condiment, and mozzarella, while amazing, is too mild to offer the amount of flavor you’d get from American or cheddar or Monterey Jack.

I set out to rectify all that this week.

The sandwich: Pizza Burger a la Ted. Wait, no: The Pizza Berger. There it is.

The construction: Two seasoned beef patties with mozzarella cheese, grilled salami, mozzarella sticks, fresh basil and tomato sauce on a pretzel roll.

I started with a pound of ground beef from Crowd Cow, where you’re still welcome to use my referral code and get us both $25 worth of meat. I seasoned it with a lot (probably around two heaping tablespoons’ worth) of grated parmesan cheese, some chopped fresh oregano (maybe a tablespoon), plus maybe a half a teaspoon each of black pepper and garlic powder. Then I divided it up into five patties, two of which went on my burger.

As the son of an Italian woman, I judge the heck out of jarred tomato sauce. I’m more lenient when it comes to pizza sauce, but I still prefer to have control over what goes in there. So I started with a half a can of tomato sauce — the extremely bare-bones kind available from the same companies that sell canned tomatoes, generally found among the different varieties of canned tomatoes.

I put it in a small pot over low heat, gussied it up with some dried oregano, black pepper, garlic powder, crushed red pepper (i.e. all the things you sprinkle on pizza), then — and I think this part’s important — I hit it with a heavy splash of balsamic vinegar. This may be sacrilege, or some breach of cooking fundamentals. But the way I figured it, if tomato sauce usually lacks the assertive, vinegary sweetness that ketchup provides a traditional burger, balsamic made for a good and thematically consistent way to add sweetness and vinegary flavor to a pizza-burger sauce. And putting it over heat let it cook down a little, thickening it up.

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I used Friday’s brand frozen mozzarella sticks for a simple reason: They’re flat, and I didn’t think a round mozzarella stick would stay on top of the burger. The idea to explore the use of mozzarella sticks on sandwiches, which set this project in motion, came from O.G. TedQuarters comments-section mainstay Catsmeat, who’s a real dude that I’ve gotten sandwiches with and not actually named “Catsmeat.”

What I would have preferred to salami would’ve been the big, slicer friendly pepperoni we sold at the deli back in the day, but Fresh Direct seems to only offer tiny pepperoni, and I didn’t want to deal with all that. Fresh mozzarella cheese is obviously superior to slicing mozzarella, but I wanted thin slices and know that the latter is a little saltier and tends to melt better.  The basil is basil.

Important background information: This was my first go-round with the Pizza Berger, and also my first time cooking burgers on a new toy I got myself. I’ve been grilling so much that I decided I deserved a cast-iron attachment for my grill, and I’ve already used it successfully to cook steaks, shrimp and asparagus. But “smashburgers” seem very of-the-moment right now, and even though I have no idea why forming meat into a ball and then squishing it on grill should be preferable to just forming meat into a patty and laying it down like it is, I decided to make these smashburgers.

But you know what? There’s a big, bottle-opener shaped hole in the back of my grill spatula, and I had my fire really hot. Smashing the burgers turned out to be a dangerous and somewhat painful experience, and it took enough time that it prevented me from getting the salami on the skillet as soon as I’d have liked. And that was bad, because it turned out it takes significantly longer than I would’ve guessed to grill salami until it’s crispy. The salami needs basically the same amount of time on the cast iron as the burger does. Who knew?

What it looks like:

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How it tastes: Better than any pizza burger I can remember, honestly, and also, quite a bit like a meatball hero. I don’t know at what point a pizza burger becomes a meatball parm sandwich and I’m not sure which side of that line this falls on. But I’m certain that the line doesn’t matter in any way, and this is good food.

There’s just no shortage of flavor here. The cheese and seasoning in the burger kicks the beef up to meatball territory, though still with burger texture, and the sweet, peppery, vinegary tomato sauce absolutely achieved the effect I was going for when I modified it. The crispy texture of the salami mostly got lost and the salami taste pretty good job of hiding, but it’s there when you look for it, offering pleasant but fleeting hints of that familiar salty beefiness.

Basil is such that two leaves of basil are enough to prove one of the dominant flavors on this thunderous sandwich, but luckily the flavor of basil is incredible and adds some pungent spiciness here. And the mozzarella sticks, perhaps the boldest addition to this sandwich, successfully maintain some of their crunchiness despite all the moist things around them, plus they ooze out creamy melted mozzarella cheese that joins all the other creamy melted mozzarella cheese that is already obvious on this burger.

Also, the pretzel rolls FreshDirect sells turn out to be pretty excellent. They did a heck of a job here holding together and maintaining the sandwich’s structural integrity.

Still, there are some things I could’ve done better. As mentioned, I would’ve liked to give the salami a little more time on the grill to get crispier. I was hoping it would do the job bacon does on a bacon cheeseburger, but it just didn’t have anything like that type of crunch.

And, while it feels strange to write this, I think I may have used too much beef. This is often an issue for me while making burgers — a pound of ground beef is more than my family needs for a single meal, but not nearly enough for two meals, so I’m stuck in an in-between zone. In this case, I think, the ground-beef-to-other-stuff ratio was a bit too high, and I certainly didn’t need the extra beef to make this a meal-sized burger.

Hall of Fame? Not quite. It has all the elements of a Hall of Fame sandwich, but the execution wasn’t right. Still, it’s a step forward.

Kids these days

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This beautiful photo comes from a longtime reader who is, like many people, enduring a rough time right now. He passed it along and said I could use it and that he didn’t want a credit. I’m using it because it’s a near-perfect depiction of some things I’ve been thinking about regarding my own kid.

If it feels like I’ve been writing about fatherhood a lot lately, it’s probably because I spend the overwhelming majority of my waking hours alone with my son, struggling to keep him active and stimulated without access to any of the external resources upon which I normally rely for that.

By the standards of children in New York City right now, my kid’s circumstances seem optimal. He’s 2 1/2, so while he knows something is happening, he’s too young to fully understand and thoroughly fear what it is. He misses the once-a-week school program he was in, and he definitely misses his grandparents, who all usually play big roles in his childcare.

But it’s not like he’s in high school and now needs to be home-schooled in calculus, and he’s not a middle-schooler abruptly torn from all his friends and activities. He’s healthy, his parents are healthy, and (knock wood) everyone he knows and loves is healthy. We have outdoor space, we’re fairly close to a couple of parks where he can run around, and, perhaps most importantly, he has a parent with nothing better to do than cater to him all day.

I can’t imagine how hard this would be for him if I needed to be working, just as I can’t imagine how hard this must be for single parents, or in households where both parents are working full-time jobs, or for people now worrying about where their next paycheck will come from, or for parents of children with special needs, or for kids with abusive parents from whom they now can’t escape.

Again: Relatively speaking, my kid has it made. And yet still, this clearly sucks for him. It sucks! He was living a toddler’s fantasy life: Going to the zoo all the time, going to museums all the time, going on adventures all over New York City, going to music class, going to his grandparents’, playing with his cousins and their dog, etc. Then, one day a month and a half ago, it just stopped. Now it’s 55 hours a week worth of pure, uncut Dada. I get old.

I have no other children for comparison’s sake, but my understanding is that he has always been an exceptionally cheerful kid. And while he’s an age at which behavior tends to change quickly, he has been a lot crankier lately, and there’s no doubt COVID is weighing on him. During a prolonged meltdown a few nights ago, he yelled out, “There are no people left on the sidewalks!” While awaiting a Sesame Street episode yesterday, he caught a Chromecast background photo of a crowded New York street scene, pointed at it and said, hopefully, “we can go to there.”

It’s sad. And I can’t help but worry about all the ways I’m probably failing him. Early in the quarantine, I spent way too much time on my phone, idly scrolling through bad news on Twitter. I wish I could find more things for him to climb on. I should give him more vegetables for lunch, not just hot dogs every day.

But the one redeeming (albeit, really, quite depressing) notion to which I keep returning is that every single kid in New York City is going through the same thing, and practically every kid in the world is going through something similar. At some point, those high-school seniors now missing their proms and graduations will go off to college and commiserate with peers from around the country who also missed out. Seventh graders will convene in the fall and fantasize about how good their summer-ball baseball team would’ve been. Elementary schoolers will show-and-tell their best quarantine arts-and-crafts projects.

Kids, for the most part, seem more pliable and resilient than adults. Obviously I recognize that many, many children objectively have it way worse than mine. But for all those like mine, for whom the biggest burden of COVID-19 is the all-encompassing boredom and the complete cessation of educational and social activities, I think, they will be OK. Someday this will end, and they’ll get a chance to bounce back together.

The Flamin’ Hot Doritos Locos Taco: It’s good

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I know it has been roughly 15 years since the Crunchwrap Supreme came out, because I remember writing a poem about it while proctoring an exam when I worked in a high school. I know the Volcano Taco emerged sometime late in 2008 or early in 2009, because I remember that it was new to the scene when my friend Jake and I started the Taco Bell Wiki in a Fort Greene apartment where I only lived for 11 months. I have a general sense of when Nacho Fries first landed in the U.S., because I remember which of three different NYC offices USA Today occupied when I brought them back and which co-workers tried them when I did. And so on.

I have been writing regularly about Taco Bell for so damn long that I can mark Taco Bell stuff in time and mark time in Taco Bell stuff. It’s either depressing or exhilarating, or perhaps depressingly exhilarating.

Still, it amazed me this morning when I thought back to the dawn of the Doritos Locos Tacos era and recalled that I was in Port St. Lucie, Fla. and wrote about it here on TedQuarters.net, meaning I was still covering spring training for SNY when it happened, meaning Doritos Locos Tacos have now been a fixture on Taco Bell menus for more than eight full years. People who were in middle school are now about to graduate from college, perhaps having never really known a Taco Bell menu without the popular cross-promotional item. The Giants were Super Bowl champions the last time Doritos Locos Tacos weren’t available. Encyclopaedia Brittanica was still putting out print editions.

I bring all this up to note that, here in Year 8 ADLT, I’ve probably eaten no more than five Doritos Locos Tacos in my life, and only because I came into them somehow. They’ve become the default offering for Taco Bell giveaways, but Taco Bell giveaways are for amateurs. And, as I mentioned upon eating my first DLT more than eight years ago, I’ve just never eaten a Taco Bell crunchy taco and wished that it could be saltier and more orange.

But I’m in this content game right now, for better or worse, and it beckoned me to Taco Bell this weekend to sample one of the new Flamin’ Hot Doritos Locos Tacos. And friends, I am prepared to call the new Flamin’ Hot Doritos Locos Tacos: Pretty damn good. I’m not sure if time has altered my memories of the Flamin’ Hot DLT’s Nacho Cheese cousins, but these seemed like they had a less assertive dusting of Doritos stuff and existed at a spice level one seldom finds in Taco Bell things. It wasn’t unpleasantly hot, but the spice definitely lingered for a little while after I ate them — think Buffalo wings sold as “hot,” but not Buffalo wings sold as “atomic.”

I also ordered a Cheesy Gordita Crunch with a Flamin’ Hot Doritos Taco inside — something every Taco Bell can do for you, even if you’re not a former honorary president — and was surprised to learn that I found it, somehow: An upgrade over the standard Cheesy G, which is saying something. This particular Cheesy Gordita Crunch was poorly made — they took the flatbread out of the little heater thing before all the cheese was melted, and the spicy ranch sauce was haphazardly distributed. But compared to a traditional Cheesy Gordita Crunch of similar build quality, this offered an extra spicy kick that proved pleasant.

The only downside to the Flamin’ Hot Doritos Locos Taco is that it is red, as as such reminds me of the long-lost Volcano Taco, my one true love. But it’s good nonetheless, and I will likely have one again before it leaves menus. I endorse this Taco Bell thing.

Friday Q&A: Furloughs, food, Creed, FTW

Here we go:

Hemal, you’re asking the wrong guy. I typed out a bunch of things that might prove helpful for relaxation, starting with putting your phone away and going for a long walk without it. Then I realized that I wouldn’t actually find that relaxing at all! What if something happens that I want to know about while I’m without my phone!? What if someone’s trying to text me? What if the president says another dumb thing, and I don’t find out about it until the end of my whole walk?

I’ve been prone to bouts of insomnia since I was a kid, but in adulthood I’ve mostly found I can keep it under wraps with a steady bedtime routine. Over the past few weeks, I’ve slept less and slept worse than I have at any point since college, and I don’t have anything else to do. This is hardly the worst aspect of this crisis, but it’s an awful irony that it should be impossible to relax at a time when there’s so little else to do.

Yesterday I had a busy day, which I finished by drinking three servings of whiskey during the course of online baseball trivia. I figured I would be out cold when I hit the bed. Fitbit says I got just over three hours’ worth of sleep. Only once in the last week have I gotten more than five hours. I’m too bored to relax.

I love Thai food, and a bunch of times I’ve got it in my head to make my own Thai food. Then I haul myself down to Chinatown to buy kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass, come back uptown and spend the bulk of a day making some style of curry. Then I eat it and I’m proud that it’s almost as good as what I could get from the Thai place down the block in 20 minutes.

My cooking repertoire is pretty limited. I think I’m good at cooking the things I know how to cook — grilled and smoked meats, basically — and I know that I am objectively excellent at piling those things atop bread to make sandwiches. I can improvise off recipes pretty well (and I maintain that cooking is a lot like playing jazz), but I rarely attempt anything too involved.

The answer to your question is almost certainly fried chicken. I’ve tried to make fried chicken so many times in so many different ways, and I almost always screw it up in one way or another. Then my home reeks of oil for a week.

Because people, by and large, have bad taste. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and two different Eagles records sold more copies than the most popular Beatles album.

I am honestly less shocked by Creed’s success than I am by the notion that Dark Side of the Moon is one of the best-selling albums of all time. That more than 40 million people have purchased it might be the single best endorsement for humanity. One might make the same case for Thriller, but Thriller seems so much more accessible that its commercial success feels easier to understand.

I recommend, first and foremost, that you get yourself to that Taco Bell. What to order there? Well, friend, that depends on how near the Taco Bell is to you.

If, say, the Taco Bell is on the first floor of your walk-up apartment building, then feel free to pick from everything on the menu, because you’re going to be able to get it home while it’s still good. But since making use of the Taco Bell dining room is probably not an option right now, I’d advise against ordering crunchy tacos if you need to travel for more than 10 minutes or so before you’re going to eat them.

The main key to Taco Bell ordering is not to stress too much. The menu might seem overwhelming, but only because Taco Bell has come up with a thousand configurations of the same eight things. I strongly recommend getting Taco Bell items with ground beef as the protein, and if you do that, the range between the worst Taco Bell thing and the best one is shockingly narrow.

Now and always — but especially now — you should order with the Taco Bell app. The Cheesy Gordita Crunch is a great option for pretty much any situation, but my current go-to and single favorite Taco Bell thing involves some customization. In the app, start with the (excellent as-is) Beefy Nacho Loaded Griller, which you can find in the “Burritos” section. Click “customize,” opt for extra seasoned beef, then, in the “sauces” area, choose one of Chipotle Sauce, Creamy Jalapeno Sauce, and Spicy Ranch — it really just doesn’t matter which. If you’re feeling especially frisky, add jalapenos as well.

Enjoy!

Hardcore Ted fans might know that I usually work on something until I hate it, then get frustrated and hit publish just to be done with it. This isn’t fishing for compliments, either, it’s just, I think, part of my process or something. It’s extremely rare for me to be fully happy with something I’ve written. Time sometimes softens my distaste for it, and I’ll often enjoy certain elements of things I wrote, but when I go back to them, I always find some details that I dislike.

The tiny coffee thing Chris alludes to might in fact be my favorite, just because the experience of having the entire city of Miami yell at me about coffee stands as one of the funniest and silliest things that has ever happened to me, and I was legitimately underwhelmed by the legendary strength of that coffee. I also feel very strongly about the internet’s propensity for rewarding posers, and I think I did a good job examining it in that post.

I liked this thing I wrote about my brother and Mariano Rivera when I wrote it. Now I regret having done it. It’s complicated, and none of the people who were in charge when I wrote that were still in charge by the end. Bottom line is, I feel like a fool and a sucker for having given that much of my soul to a company that ultimately showed it didn’t deserve any bit of it, and I think I’d still be working there if I’d known enough to just write baseball hot takes and cash paychecks.

Trivial pursuits

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There’s really never a bad time to share a photo of yourself and the legend Trebek.

Back when we could go out and see people and do stuff, I hosted a bunch of baseball and general trivia nights at my friends’ bars in Brooklyn. It’s weird to me now, in retrospect, that I never used this space to promote or discuss it, but I very much enjoyed it, and I think most of the people that came out to play had fun, too.

Writing trivia questions is entirely unlike any other type of writing I’ve attempted, and there’s definitely an art to it. I suspect that even a lot of hardcore Jeopardy! fans don’t consider just how good the show’s writers are at coming up with 61 new questions for every single episode, or how well constructed every one of those questions is.

Go to a bunch of bad bar trivia nights and you’ll start appreciating it: Jeopardy! questions are rarely a straightforward test of whether you know something or not. They’re way more often a test of how well you can use the clues presented to come to a quick, educated guess.

I keep that in mind as a goal when I’m writing trivia. Like every other trivia writer not employed by Jeopardy!, I’m not Jeopardy! caliber. But I got good enough at it that people had just started to hire me to do events outside the bar when events stopped happening. I even got myself business cards:

On Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. ET, the Quad-A Baseball Quiz will make its online debut. The estimable Cooper Lund, a regular player at the real-life baseball trivia nights, set up all the technical elements and coached me through my end of it. He and similarly estimable Quad-A trivia teammate (and my fellow former Jeopardy! contestant) Ami Li will help me tally the scores.

If you’ve got nothing else to do — and you’ve got nothing else to do! The NFL Draft is bad! — you can and should register here. At the bar, teams play for money, but because it’d be impossible to police cheating, there’s no money on the line online. Dan Lewis, of the excellent Now I Know newsletter, has offered up a signed copy of his book to the winner, with the caveat that you’ll have to wait until he’s willing to go to the post office (which seems reasonable).

Thursday night’s quiz will include five rounds of eight questions, with some sort of closest-to-the-pole tiebreak question if necessary. The first two rounds are themed rounds, the third round will be a visual round (i.e. identifying photos), the fourth round is Before & After, and the fifth is general baseball trivia. Barring technical difficulties, it should take about an hour and a half.

To help you decide if this is something you want to do, I’m going to screencap some Google Slides from recent events and turn them into two rounds’ worth of trivia here. Whether or not you want to play online, you should consider coming out to the analog versions of the Quad-A Baseball Quiz and/or The Executive Game whenever they do return. And if you’re planning to do that, you should consider buying a Barry Bond, laying out some money now to help the bars weather the pandemic and getting your interest paid in extra booze.

OK, here we go. I’m going to put the answers in a comment, so DO NOT CLICK THE COMMENTS IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THE ANSWERS. SPOILER ALERT! HELLO! CAPS! The first round here will be a general baseball-trivia round, and the second will be Before & After.

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Next, Before & After. You know how these work, right? Good.

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Again, the answers are going to be in the first comment below. Chime in and say how you did! Or don’t. But do join me tomorrow.

Who would do such a thing?

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Do these people all live together, or have they decided that making free-use photos for WordPress is more essential than social distancing? Also, color me skeptical that the photographer shares a name with a Breaking Bad villain. (Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com)

After the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia, news circulated online that fitness celebrity John Basedow — he of the once-ubiquitous Fitness Made Simple commercials — had been vacationing in Phuket, Thailand and was presumed dead.

He was not. About a month after the disaster, a note on the front page of the Fitness Made Simple website assured fitness fans that John Basedow was alive, unharmed, and had never even been to Thailand.

There’s nothing funny about the actual tsunami, obviously. But if John Basedow did not die in it — and John Basedow did not die in it — it means that upon learning of one of the deadliest disasters in human history, someone somewhere invented the story of John Basedow’s untimely demise and went through the trouble of disseminating it online. And that, I think, is kind of funny — not the hoax itself so much as the decision to enact it. Because: Why?

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At the Big East tournament the next year (or maybe the year after that, but sometime before smartphones became ubiquitous), a friend and I discussed at some length the John Basedow death hoax and its ability to spread unchecked in the wake of the tsunami. So during a dull part in a game, he picked up his BlackBerry, looked at it, and said, loudly, “Wow, Clyde Drexler died. Police suspect foul play.” The people behind us overheard and expressed their disbelief, and then you could hear it sort of echoing its way back through the seats, in grim tones, “Clyde Drexler… Clyde Drexler… Clyde Drexler.”

Maybe death is not something that should ever be falsified, and maybe I should not now confess my role in the Great Clyde Drexler Death Hoax of 2006. I’m not saying it’s something I’m especially proud of, only that it’s something that happened. Me and my friend successfully convinced a handful of people that Clyde Drexler had died, just to see if we could.

Hoaxes exist in many forms. Some — those that are purely self-serving on behalf of the hoaxer — are easy to figure out. Manti Te’o and his friend made up the story of Lennay Kekua because Te’o stood to benefit from it in the form of fawning magazine profiles and SportsCenter segments. Kellyanne Conway said the “Bowling Green Massacre” happened because she didn’t have enough actual examples to forward her xenophobic agenda. I have no trouble deciphering why such things would come to be.

But this pandemic has brought with it a handful of more baffling hoaxes, and elements of at least four of them have at some point been earnestly passed along to me by friends or family members trying to be helpful. The first came more than a month ago, right after the NBA shut down, when everything seemed like it was spinning off the rails. It said, basically, that a friend of a friend who was a cop said that the city was preparing to quarantine all of Manhattan by closing every bridge and tunnel.

That one kind of felt like it might just be a game of telephone gone awry. The city, clearly, really was preparing for a shutdown like the one we’re currently enduring, and perhaps someone misunderstood that to mean shutting down all points of egress. I recognized it as ridiculous — more than 1.5 million people live in Manhattan, and we would pretty quickly run out of food without the use of bridges and tunnels — and soon found tweets from the NYPD that referenced and dismissed the rumor.

Then there’s this one: Since January, apparently, people have been circulating an image online explaining that standard surgical masks are reversible, and that sick people should wear them with the colored side out to prevent transmission of the virus and healthy people should wear them with the colored side in to prevent germs from penetrating the masks. It has made the rounds in multiple languages and on multiple continents and has persisted for months, and it’s complete hokum. Surgical masks are not reversible. They are made to be worn with the colored side out, always, by everyone.

I wish I could offer some grand conclusion to this post, but I’ve got nothing. The question posed in the headline is a genuine one: Who the hell would make something like that up, and why? Is it someone who really thinks he or she has figured out a better, more effective way to wear surgical masks? Does it mean to sow chaos by trying to publicly codify the sick and the healthy? Or is it, like the deaths of John Basedow and Clyde Drexler, just something someone made up to see if they could get other people to believe it?