Three things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving and one thing I’m not

I was planning on rolling with a typical schoolhouse post today, but I pulled it so my research about the Carney schoolhouse in Blackford County doesn’t get all muffed up by my ham- and turkey-fisted attempts to tie it in to today’s festivities. Instead, I’m going to dive into a contemplative mood and write about a couple of things I’m thankful for this year, all extemporaneous-like.

Thing 1: My new job

It’s not been that long ago that I was back in school as a non-traditional student doing part-time marketing and data aggregation work for an online tech retailer and an international CPG company. Money was overwhelmingly tight! After I graduated and got a job as a quality analyst for a factory, my newfound financial stability took an enormous weight off my shoulders. Ironically, though, that security came at a cost: the hours were crushing, the job was stressful, and the environment wasn’t the greatest. After about two years of struggling to stay afloat, I realized that there’s no romance to be found by going down with a sinking ship. The water was up to my knees, so I screwed up the courage to bail. Boy, am I ever glad I did.

For me, greener pastures lay on top of a reclaimed brownfield site that was once home to General Motors’ Guide Lamp division in Anderson, Indiana. Seven years ago, an Italian plastics giant bought it, cleaned it up, and founded a brand-new North American operation there. I started my current role there, as a quality lab technician, the day after Labor Day. 

The north side of my workplace. Raw plastic pellets come in here…

Raw thermoplastics -plastics that liquefy when heated and solidify when they’re cooled- need a lot of help to reach their full potential. Take polypropylene, for example: it’s resistant to corrosion and freezing, it doesn’t react to acids, doesn’t conduct electricity very well, is pretty much impermeable, and has a high tensile strength despite its low density. That’s all great! On the other hand, it degrades badly upon interaction with UV rays, bonds poorly to other surfaces, has limited uses in high-temperature situations, and it’s extremely flammable. 

What my company does is add stuff to virgin plastic pellets in order to make compounds that are suitable for a variety of industrial uses. In Anderson, we crank out about 55 kilotons of plastic pellets suitable for use by huge home appliance companies and automotive manufacturers per year. About a quarter of that is green material made from recycling post-consumer and post-industrial plastics like bottle wrappers and construction fencing.

..and custom compounds come out there!

Though it operates fifty-three production lines across thirteen different plants in eight countries, the company is a family business with all of the positives that term implies. The place is in growth mode and run by dedicated professionals who are mostly my age that possess a deep understanding of our products and processes. I’m thankful for the opportunity to contribute to that success from the ground floor with such a great group of people- I couldn’t be a more different situation from where I found myself mired in four months ago. Thank you, Turkey God!

Thing 2: My new cat

Becoming a cat person is something I never expected. See, when I was a kid, my Dad had dogs: the hyperactive pugs Zorro and Tucker, the goofy Boston Terriers Bobo and Oliver, and a trio of stoic Bouvier des Flandres with ridiculous names like Bozman Von Grier, The Flying Dutchman, and Dutch’s sister, Wilhelmina. I still love dogs, but a cat first came into the picture about a year and a half ago, thanks to my brother. 

This is Disco.

Aside from a short interruption, John and I have lived together for about eight years after I ran to Fort Wayne on a scholarship and he went to Houston on one of his own. That brief break resolved itself when he came back to the house with Disco, a black cat born in a Blackford County barn on Halloween whom he shared with an ex-girlfriend. Disco’s three now, and she and John have a tight bond. I love that little biscuit, but I also wanted a bond like that for myself. Neither John nor I want to live with each other forever, after all, but I knew I wouldn’t want to be without a little friend of my own when that day eventually shows its face.

Six months ago, I got a chance at one when I took in my friend’s pet tortoise while she dealt with some major life changes. Sheldon’s a neat little dude who likes fighting his own reflection almost as much as he loves the occasional field trip to wander around my front yard, but he’s a tortoise. Reptiles are cool, but they’re not much into being held or played with. Sheldon’s actually remarkably prone to hissing when I interact with him! Nevertheless, he’s shown me that I’m capable of taking care of a creature other than me, which was a big thing to this millennial since I’m not all that great at taking care of myself to begin with at times.

This is Sheldon.

Nevertheless, Sheldon gets his Evian, organic spring mix, tortoise pellets, and a proper does of sunlight and warmth via the two enormous lightbulbs that surround his six-foot-long terrarium. A couple of weeks ago, though, a friend shared a status update on Facebook from the Blackford County Animal Shelter. It was a picture of a six-month-old calico kitten named Zulu, and I was instantly smitten with how tiny she was and how grumpy she looked. I talked it over with John, applied for Zulu, and got approved a few days later.

I’d always hoped for Zulu, but I wasn’t sure that she’d be available since she’d proven so popular online through myriad shares, likes, and interactions. John and I looked at other cats for adoption and decided on another kitten, Pebbles, as our second choice if Zulu had already been adopted out. That particular animal shelter was appointment-only, and communication was difficult, but I finally got news that we could come look at Zulu and Pebbles on a Saturday.

Here is Zulu.

John and I braved the first snow of the season to pick her up on November 12. She was nervous as the volunteer brought her out to us, and I let John hold her first. When he passed her to me, Zulu started purring and rolled over in my arms to let me scratch her belly. I was sold: I couldn’t give a cat belly rubs and send her back with a good conscience! Zulu was ours, and we took her home, making sure to get the exact type of food she’d eaten in the shelter on our way. We never even looked at Pebbles, though I’m sad about that. There are far too many cats out there that need good homes. At least Zulu has one now, but it wasn’t certain for a while.

I’ve got a large bedroom, and I replaced most of the furniture in it with cat toys and accessories to give her her own space while she acclimated. All she wanted to do was hide on that first day, initially behind my clothes hamper and then behind the air compressor I use to run my Showbiz Pizza robots. As time went on, she got a little more curious and started burning off some energy!

Here’s Zulu again, taking a break from Bug Patrol after she saw a fly in my room.

She’s still little and sometimes struggles to find her footing, but she just loves to roll around on her back and get belly scratches while she kneads the air with outstretched arms. Sometimes, she accidentally rolls off the bed, but she always pops right back up into view completely unfazed. She is ridiculously cute and has a gorgeous coat. I’m totally infatuated with her. 

I’m grateful for Zulu, but I’m mostly thankful that my brother and I can create environment where Disco, Zulu, and Sheldon are all three happy, safe, and warm. Well, I guess the jury’s still out on the tortoise being happy, but he’s safe, warm, and -at a minimum- content. Praise be to the Turkey King!

Thing 3: My new Subway Seafood Sensation analog

The last thing I’m thankful for on this Thanksgiving is not something I’ll be eating today: Subway’s Seafood Sensation. I’m much less thankful that the chain pulled the plug on it a couple of years ago, though, since it was my favorite sandwich when I managed an outpost in the middle of Fort Wayne’s strip club district during my freshman year of college. 

The Seafood Sensation. Image courtesy of Subway Australia.

I know what you’re thinking: in a world of Italian BMTs and Chicken Bacon Ranches, what was I doing bothering with the likes of some disgusting concoction of imitation crab meat and mayonnaise? The honest answer is that I don’t really know. When I worked there, though, I made it a point to try every sandwich they offered save one: the dreaded Cold Cut Combo. When it came to that boy, I could never get over three foundational elements: 

  1. The smell- God, that smell.
  2. The ingredients- the box that it came in literally said “turkey-based bologna,” “turkey-based ham,” and “turkey-based salami.” Yuck. I still get a kick out of turkey-based ham.
  3. The method of packaging and preparation- slicing open the a new box of Cold Cut Combo revealed a large, sweaty bag stuffed with a lasagna made up of stacks of the meat layered between strips of wax paper.

Even the titular ingredient of Subway’s Meatball Marinara, which I fondly remember spritzing with a water bottle for hours to stave off its dehydration, carried more appeal than the dreaded Cold Cut Combo. But between the two of them, those things absolutely flew out the door, and I’ll never understand why. The Seafood Sensation? Not so much. Maybe that’s why they discontinued it. 

This is the Subway that launched my old career as a Sandwich Artist. The Seafood Sensation was not available in the Muncie/Yorktown market; the Veggie Patty was.

I’m generally not big on cold salads that don’t involve our friend the potato. But the seafood salad was something else entirely. I became more Sandwich Engineer than Sandwich Artist as I fine-tuned my approach to making one, and I eventually experimented my way to the best sandwich ever:

Nothing screams imitation crab and mayo like Italian herbs and cheeses, so that’s the bread I started with. For a footlong, I added four heaping scoops of the seafood mix and topped it with four triangles of pepper jack cheese. The top bread got pickles, olive oil, and vinegar. It’s a weird combination of disparate tastes, but the way I saw it, the pickles and vinegar were the perfect compliment to the creaminess of the seafood mix and the rich taste of the oil. The star of the show was the pepper jack. It somehow tied the whole thing together.

I also worked at this Subway in Muncie. The Subway I worked at in Fort Wayne was similar, but stood in the shadow of an enormous bowling pin that advertised the Pro Bowl West a few doors down.

Haute cuisine it was not, but it was damned good and I ate that sandwich nearly every day I worked. I moved back to Muncie after my freshman year of college, though, a market where the Seafood Sensation wasn’t offered. I eventually forgot about the sandwich, and it wasn’t until recently that I learned the shocking news it’d been discontinued back in 2018. That realization lined up perfectly with my desire to eat one, so I headed to Kroger, known hereabouts as Pay Less: I got some hoagie rolls and all the ingredients, including some store-brand Traditional Seafood Salad. It did not go well.

The texture was close to what I’d remembered -large chunks of fake crab meat swimming around in the mayo with some smaller strands- but the mix itself was far too tangy, probably due to the rice wine included in the mixture. Disco agreed and refused to touch the stuff beyond a cursory sniff, but a second trip that saw me buy a pack of Kroger® Flake Style Crab Select™ Imitation Crab Meat and some Hellman’s recreated the mix almost perfectly. 

God, that sandwich was glorious. Onions occasionally graced mine, but there’s no need to sully it with lettuce, tomatoes, and green peppers for Christ’s sake. Image courtesy of Subway.

I don’t know specifics since the seafood mix came to Subway pre-made in a bucket, but I think I’ve nailed down the ideal mixture as being half flake style and half chunk style, along with the Hellman’s mayo. Nevertheless, something was missing from the greater sandwich. I pondered for a few days, and then it hit me: See, Subway pickles are cut extremely thin, and they sit all day in a little container with a drain plate at the bottom, so they’re not as sour as your typical Vlasics. The cheese sits out all day, too, so it’s usually a little limp.

To accommodate those realities, I made up some seafood mix with Hellman’s and fifty/fifty flake and chunk imitation crab before work and stuck it in the fridge. On my way home, I stopped at the closest Subway to my house -coincidentally, the one I started working at back in 2008- and had them make me a footlong veggie sub on Italian Herbs & Cheese with nothing but pepper jack, pickles, olive oil, and vinegar. The lynchpin was getting the bread home before the oil and vinegar sunk in too much.

Once home, I added the crab mix. Boy howdy and love me tender! The resultant sandwich instantly transported me back to the spring of 2010 when I had my first beautiful taste of the Seafood Sensation. In recreating it, there’s no shame in having Subway do half the work since, hell, I did all the work for them for about three years myself. But I guess more than the Seafood Sensation itself, I’m grateful for the fine people of Kroger’s procurement department for ensuring that I could readily get my hands on the ingredients to resurrect it.

Thing 4: The thing for which I’m not grateful

I hate them. Image © LondonHistoryatHome / CC BY-SA 4.0.

I hate to condemn an entire species, but I’ll come right out and say it: I’m not thankful for geese this holiday season. Those who know me best know that I’m not particularly enamored with the idea of birds in general, but geese – waterfowl species in the family Anatidae, in case you’re unaware- are the absolute worst. They’re loud and they honk at you. They shit all over the place. They’re territorial, and a decidedly noxious strain of them always gets in my way when I’m trying to drive downtown.

In conclusion

A male wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) strutting at Deer Island Open Space Preserve near Novato, Marin County, California. Image © Frank Schulenburg / CC BY-SA 4.0.

They say you can’t go home, but many of us will be doing over the next few days to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to go back to Fort Wayne’s Goshen Road Subway -my home away from home thirteen years ago- to revisit my favorite sandwich of all time by means of the local Kroger and the Subway here in Yorktown. I’m also thankful for my new position at an incredible place to work, and little Zulu the cat. I’m totally smitten with her.

Thanks again, O Great Poultry Spirit. Happy Thanksgiving! 

3 thoughts on “Three things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving and one thing I’m not

  1. Great result in recreating your sandwich! Color me impressed. I had the same reaction of feeling left out in the cold when Domino’s re-engineered their pizza some years back. Their old pizza was not objectively great, but it was a flavor I absorbed during a short stint working there during college. The new stuff does nothing for me. And unlike you, I can’t recreate the old one.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s