Confession No. 115 — It’s the holiday season. Let the excitement begin!

Ah, the holidays. The season has arrived when one can turn on the TV at any given time and see biting weather forecasts, flight delays and Angel Tree thefts. Not to mention the open houses and secret Santa gift exchanges with people you’d rather avoid.

The cheer only lasts a month. Enjoy it at your own peril.

Near-death experiences
More than a week ago, as I drove by the local outlet of a national electronics retailer, I saw what amounted to a semi-primitive campsite to the east side of the entrance. Did the business have some sort of promotion going on? Had times become so bad for the fledgling company that they began offering camping locations on their sidewalks? Nope. It was just someone securing his  place in line for Black Friday, the busiest retail shopping day of the year — called such because it’s the day that retailers expect to make it ‘into the black’ for the fiscal year.

For whatever reason, driving to the local Walgreens between Thanksgiving and Christmas is akin to skating on an ice-covered pond in 70-degree weather.

For years on the day after Thanksgiving, retailers have been offering limited quantities of certain products at outlandishly low prices. The idea is to get people in the door to spend money. But is a $100 HDTV really worth freezing one’s tush off for days at a time in a parking lot? Or worse, getting trampled to death when the store decides to open its doors? It’s a veritable madhouse. Did I mention these pneumonia-suffering pavement pioneers set up the $400 tent more than a week ago just to buy electronics on the cheap? Guess they’ve never heard of Chinatown.

There are still plenty of us who count on couriers to drop our gifts at our doorsteps, but we still must venture out for unimportant things such as food, toiletries, prescriptions and such. For whatever reason, driving to the local Walgreens between Thanksgiving and Christmas is akin to skating on an ice-covered pond in 70-degree weather.

Not only are motorists surlier than normal during these few weeks, many of them seem to become colorblind — not realizing the difference between green and red. Their depth perception also declines tremendously, as they tend to ride within six inches of the next car’s bumper. And God forbid that poor Grandma Grunt should have to go the market for her supply of prune juice. Even the thick metal and glass of her garage-kept 1967 Buick aren’t thick enough to mute the profanity and horns that she’ll hear when she accidentally leaves her turn signal on for a mile or three.

Bright lights!
I pretty much lost interest in decorating the Christmas tree at about age … zero. Even as a child, arguments ensued over eggnog and hot chocolate as Dad tried to figure out the culprit bulb. It never ended pretty, although the tree looked good most years. And nothing’s changed. Even this year, as the family placed seasonal accoutrements old and new on the tree, there were debates about who gets to hang the candy canes — as if there weren’t 50 pieces.

As for lights on the house, I did that. Once. It was 1995. Who knew that using a staple gun would short out eight hours of cheek-freezing lip-chapping work? Never again.

But we still make an annual journey to see the lighting work of others. We usually begin with high hopes — Christmas music and hot chocolate in the car — and wrap it up when one child has been discovered listening to pop music via some hidden headphones and another begins screaming about not wanting to be ‘touched’ in the back seat. Ah, the memories of being distracted and nearly rear-ending other gawkers. Priceless.

Kodak moments
I get a certain feeling of satisfaction when acquaintances see my stories come to life. Case in point: the family Christmas photo.

As a child I purposely screwed up more photos than I can remember. I’m probably one of the few people who received an old fashioned butt whipping on my birthday — I was 33. Seriously though, Dad was never happy when I faked blowing out the candles or crossed my eyes at the last possible second. It could’ve been that most of those photos were costly in an era of flash cubes and film.

My son, who turns 18 in a few months, had his own experience with my Dad about 10 years ago. And my wife was there to see the whole thing.

‘OK kids. Y’all smile,’ My dad ordered as Christopher, Brielle and Alexandra sat on our hearth in their Christmas attire.

‘Heeee..’ Chris blurted out, trying to be humorous.

‘That ain’t a damn bit funny Christopher,’ Dad barked. ‘I’m over here taking this picture for your mom and dad and don’t think I won’t whip you.’

The boy seemed to ignore his grandfather’s warning, despite that I stood in the background motioning to him otherwise. I’d also whispered to Catherine that Dad probably wouldn’t spank Chris as hard as he used to spank me, since he was becoming an old man.

‘Chris,’ I said ‘just smile for the picture and quit acting like a fool.’

But neither did my instructions work. The boy would need some old-school discipline and my father was just the man to instill it. — After a close face-to-face talk with my Dad, during which the boy felt the strength of the old man’s left hand as he pulled him away from the fireplace, Chris changed his demeanor.

And now our family albums feature a photo — taken with a digital camera — of a teary-eyed boy who’s faking a smile. I (truly) feel his pain.

Yes, the holiday season hovers over us like a Scotch-drinking Santa or named Nor’easter. Joy. Joy. Joy.

Want to receive notifications of my Confessions in your email? Just click here. I’d also love for you to join me on Facebook (click the ‘like’ button), Pinterest and Google+. — Special thanks to Megan E. ‘Water Ain’t Just for Drinking’ Hawkins at The Underground Writer  for editing this piece.


I rarely taste (chain) restaurant food that I want to duplicate. This is one of the few.

Austin-based Schlotzsky’s is mainly a southern eatery, though they are scattered about the U.S. Except for Alvin Ord’s (a much smaller chain born out of a Schlotzsky’s business squabble), there is no place with such addicting bread. It’s crisp yet spongey. Light yet yeasty. Delicious in every sense of the word.

I was once told by a Schlotzsky’s franchisee that the proprietary bread recipe changes annually, depending on that year’s wheat crop and other variables. I’m not sure whether he was offering up gospel, or trying to ensure my continued patronage. Regardless of those so-called variables, this recipe is as close as they come to the $12 sandwiches served at Schlotzsky’s. In fact, I dare you to find a difference — other than the wrapper and the kid working the drive-thru.

Spot-onzsky Sandwiches (Schlotzsky’s Original® Copycat)

Schlotzsky's
Spot-onzsky! Other than the wrapper and the kid with multiple piercings working the drive-thru, this is spot on with the Schlotzsky’s Original & Alvin Ord’s Salvation.

1 recipe – Sourdough starter

2½ cups – Bread flour
1 cup – Lukewarm milk
3 tsp – Granulated sugar
1 tsp – Kosher salt
1/2 tsp – Baking soda

2 TB – Cornmeal
2 TB – Sesame seeds (optional)

In a large bowl, combine milk, sugar, salt and baking soda. Add sourdough starter and mix well. Add flour in small amounts to sourdough mixture, combining well between additions (I use a stand mixer with a dough hook), until smooth.

Spray two 8-inch cake pans (I use the disposable version) liberally with non-stick spray. Scatter 1 TB of cornmeal in each pan. Flour hands (dough is very sticky) and divide dough in half. Place each half in a cake pan. – Don’t bother trying to spread dough to the edges, as this will take care of itself during rising. – Spray dough with non-stick spray, cover and put in a draft-free area to rise for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Give the dough another light coating of non-stick spray. Scatter a TB of sesame seeds, if using, atop each bun. Bake on middle rack of oven until lightly golden and toothpick comes out clean from the center, about 18-20 minutes.

Allow buns to cool on rack for at least 15-20 minutes before slicing.

The Filling
Shredded Iceberg Lettuce
Black Olives, chopped
Red Onion, sliced
Tomato, sliced

1/4 cup (per sandwich):

  • Shredded Sharp Cheddar
  • Shredded Mozzarella

5 slices (per sandwich):

  • Cotto Salami
  • Genoa Salami
  • Thinly-sliced Ham

Yellow Mustard
Mayonnaise
Garlic powder

Sandwich Assembly
Spread Cheddar on bottom half of bun, then top with black olives and salamis.
Spread top half lightly with mayonnaise and sprinkle lightly with garlic powder. Add Mozzarella, then ham.

Place both halves – open face – on a baking sheet and bake (in the 375ºF oven) until cheese has melted and meats are beginning to brown around edges, about 5-7 minutes.

On bottom half, add lettuce, onion and tomato. Douse with yellow mustard. Place halves together and slice into quarters.

Serve with your favorite chips (I like salt & vinegar potato chips with these. Not sure why.) Easily feeds 5 people.

Sourdough Starter
2 cups – Lukewarm water (about 110ºF)
1½ tsp – Sugar
1 packet (1 TB) – Active dry yeast
2 cups – Bread (or all-purpose) flour

In a large bowl, combine water, sugar and yeast. Set aside until yeast blossoms (becomes foamy), about 5 minutes. If the mixture does not become foamy, discard and try again with fresher yeast. — Whisk in flour until mixture is smooth. Cover and place in a draft-free location for 8-12 hours. The resulting product should be bubbly. Use immediately (in this recipe) or refrigerate for later use.

Comments

  1. Linda Wise says:

    Please either add a “Pin It” button or, at least, give the name of the board where the recipe is pinned.

    Love the stories as much as the recipes.

  2. Linda just lost her ever-loving mind over this. I shall be making this…ohhhh, today?

    • adamjholland says:

      Linda has good taste. :-) You’d be better off making the sourdough starter today and making the sandwiches tomorrow afternoon.

  3. I love the description of driving around looking at Christmas lights. It is so classic. You have this image of a lovely family outing that always goes awry. In our car, one child would inevitably spill the hot chocolate while the other would ask every three seconds, “Can you put on Radio Disney now?” “Can you put on Radio Disney now?” “Can you put on Radio Disney now?”

  4. Love the name of your sandwich. :) And it looks and sounds delicious. The first Schlotzky’s I ever ate at was in Oklahoma City and then lo and behold one showed up in Denver. And very close to our house. I’ve eaten there once. I’m like you, I try to avoid chains. And I’d like to commend you for your sandwich not having something to do with Thanksgiving leftovers or a Christmas cookie sandwich. eye-yi-yi

    • adamjholland says:

      Thank you, Lea Ann. The thing about the Thanksgiving feast.. If it’s so good, why do we eat it only once per year? Also, you never hear anyone moaning about what to do with a left over prime rib roast! ;-) Christmas cookie sandwich? You’re right. It’s like I died and ended up with a bunch of Junior Leaguers in the afterlife.

  5. Oh. My. God.

    You have my undying love and patronage forever. Schlotzkys is my favorite sandwich, anytime, anywhere. I will be making this regularly.

    Thoughts about Black Friday:

    1). Want a cheap TV? Try craigslist and save yourself the grief
    2). Time is money…five days of my time would buy several TVs….
    3). People are greedy, greedy critters

  6. Poor Chris! Has he gotten over the trauma?

    What a nice sandwich. Thanks for sharing!

    • adamjholland says:

      Not sure, Jackie. If he’s anything like his dad, he’ll keep on messing up photos! ;-) Thank you for your kind words.

  7. Where I am not a fan of black Friday, or anything that comes from it… I have a feeling you would hate me this time of year as I blast my Christmas carols and decorate with bright lights so everything looks holiday-ish ><

    • adamjholland says:

      My iPod, on the way to the office this morning, was set to ‘Christmas Standards’ (my playlist for Bing Crosby, etc.). Admittedly, I listed to ’80s Metal’ on the way home this afternoon. Not sure why. — As for your lights, I love them (since they aren’t mine). ;-)

  8. Depth perception decline, say you? And manners out the door along with it… as you also know. Had a honking fool behind me at a completely jammed intersection last week. I ignored her. I have business signs on my car after all. But at the last minute, when the intersection finally cleared, I am pretty sure the passionate shopper that was now centimeters from my back bumper did not need extreme depth perception to see my hand go up in an unmistakable gesture. She remained stuck at the now re-jammed intersection while I merrily moved on. Life can be so sweet.

  9. Wow, Adam!! That bread looks spot on. If I didn’t know better and didn’t trust you, I could almost believe you went and took a picture from the chain. That, and the fillings on their’s would never look that good. Gonna try that bread recipe soon. Thanks for sharing it.

  10. HI, quick question. I’m making these tonight, but having never even heard of Schlotsky’s I don’t have a reference for the sandwich size. Does each 8″ round serve 5? If that’s the case, maybe I will use 6″ pans instead. There’s only a couple of us :) Thanks for the recipe, it looks delish!

    • adamjholland says:

      Hi Marian. That sandwich in the photo is an 8″ and is considered a large. I’m the only one in my family who orders that size. (Everyone else orders small, which is about the same size as a typical hamburger.) That large will feed two people with normal appetites.

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