March 14 – Celebrate Pi Day!

Pi Day is an annual celebration commemorating the mathematical constant π (the Greek letter pi), the symbol for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi Day is celebrated around the world on March 14th since Pi = 3.1415926535…


Next year will be especially exciting: in the year 2015, Pi Day will have special significance at 9:26:53 a.m. and p.m., with the date and time representing the first 10 digits of pi.

While the American Pie Council (APC) denotes January 23 as National PIE Day, the U.S. Congress recognizes March 14 as PI Day, but both can be celebrated by baking pies.

According to the APC, the first pies were probably made by early Romans, and appeared in England as early as the Twelfth Century. Pie came to America with the first English settlers. The early colonists cooked their pies in long narrow pans calling them “coffins” like the crust was called in England. Among the other benefits of the American Revolution, it brought into common use the word “crust” rather than “coffin.”

How to celebrate? Make your pie big enough to share! “Hand pies” may not be appropriate, as shown by this calculation by Trader Joe’s:


On the other hand, this “pi pie,” created at Delft University of Technology in 2008 suggests a more share-friendly approach to Pi Day!


Happy 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939… Day!

wkendcookingThis post will be linked to this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. where bloggers share food-related posts. Stop by her blog and see what’s cooking this week!

New Year’s Eve 2013 – Drop the Ball!

Dropping a ball in New York City’s Times Square dates back to 1907. But why is it done?


Marking time by a ball drop started in 1833, when England’s Royal Observatory at Greenwich installed a ball that would drop at one o’clock each afternoon.

Time ball stations set their clocks according to transit observations of the position of the sun. This allowed the captains of nearby ships to set their navigational instruments precisely. (What, you may ask, does longitude have to do with time? Since the Earth rotates at a steady rate of 360° every twenty-four hours, or 15° per hour (in mean solar time), there is a direct relationship. If you know what time it is, you can figure out where you are.)

Note that a meridian is a line of longitude.

Note that a meridian is a line of longitude.

The first “time-ball” was invented by Robert Wauchope, an admiral in the British Navy who had more free time than he otherwise might have; he had trouble getting a ship to command on account of his opposition to allowing prostitutes on board.

Scientists and inventors were struggling at the time with the challenge to perfect the calculation of longitude for sailers. As we have seen above, in order to achieve accuracy, it was essential that a ship’s marine chronometer have the correct time. Unfortunately, the astronomical calculations to ensure this could only conveniently be made in observatories. Wauchope came up with the idea of signaling ships from high points of observatories. He described his plan to the British Admiralty, and his “time ball” device was tested in 1829. Four years later, the Royal Observatory had a time ball in operation.

The Royal Observatory Timeball Tower, Greenwich

The Royal Observatory Timeball Tower, Greenwich

With the success of the Greenwich time ball, others were installed around the world, including one at the U.S. Naval Observatory in 1845. This ball, also designed by Wauchope, was dropped every day at noon. But standardization was still necessary. By an international decree in 1884, the determination of time by the Royal Observatory at Greenwich became the official starting point for each new day, year and millennium. It was the logical choice since, at that time, most of the world’s commerce depended on sea-charts using Greenwich as the Prime Meridian.

Time Ball, U.S. Naval Observatory

Time Ball, U.S. Naval Observatory

The Time’s Square Ball, a very specialized time-ball, was erected several years after revelers picked that location to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The first ball, launched in 1907 to celebrate the arrival of 1908, was made of iron and wood and weighed 700 pounds. Six improvements followed, culminating in the current version, a geodesic sphere weighing 11,875 pounds and covered with 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles. It is illuminated by over thirty thousand LEDs (light emitting diodes), each module of which contains 12 each of red, blue, green, and white LEDs. Thus, it can produce a palette of more than 16 million colors and billions of patterns.


The Times Square ball has been lowered every year since 1907, except during 1942 and 1943, because of World War II blackouts. Today, an estimated one million people flock to Times Square each year to watch the ball drop.

Happy New Year!!!

Happy Holidays!

Chicago, in miniature, at The Botanic Gardens

Chicago, in miniature, at The Botanic Gardens

Happy Thanksgiving!


Sunday Treat – National Peanut Butter Lovers Month

sundae2As I’m sure you know, November is National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month.


I would be sad without peanut butter, and I am not alone. According to the National Peanut Board, the amount of peanut butter eaten in a year could wrap the earth in a ribbon of 18-ounce peanut butter jars one and one-third times. Most of that peanut butter probably comes from consumption in my house. Even Mr. Ed, the talking horse from old tv, ate peanut butter. In order to make the horse look like he was talking, they spread peanut butter inside his mouth, creating a “natural talking movement” every time the animal moved his sticky jaws.


Another interesting fact is that apparently women and children prefer creamy, while most men opt for chunky. This is certainly true in our house; we are a two-jar family at all times. [It’s even worse than that: we are a two-BRAND family!]





Want more peanut butter fun facts? Check out this very cool peanut butter infographic.

So if there’s all this love for peanut butter, why is it so hard to find peanut butter ice cream? I don’t mean ice cream with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in it, I mean actual peanut butter ice cream. It being essential to my happiness, I often just make my own.

There are at least two ways to make it. There is the homemade ice cream method, a recipe for which you can see here.


But I actually take the lazy road. Here is MY recipe for peanut butter ice cream.

Get a big bowl.

Dump a carton of Breyer’s vanilla bean ice cream into the bowl. (Breyer’s Lactose Free Vanilla works just as well.)

Let it soften.

Stir in a very large glob of peanut butter. Leave some swirly if you want but stir it in so it turns the color of peanut butter.

Put back into a large tupperware container and refreeze.

Well, put most back. Eat the rest.

But wait!

Don’t feel obliged to use up your tupperware! You can try this tasty alternative:

Before refreezing, pour ice cream into an oreo cookie crust and top with either hot fudge sauce or crushed peanut butter cups.

It’s a great quick dessert to make for company or a special dinner!

Happy Peanut Butter Lovers Month!


wkendcookingThis post will be linked to this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. where bloggers share food-related posts. Stop by her blog and see what’s cooking this week!

Dia de los Muertos – or Day of the Dead – and Frida Kahlo

This ancient festival is rooted in Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past. It is celebrated every year on November 1 (All Saints’ Day) and November 2 (All Souls’ Day). Many customs associated with this festival reflect a mix of ancient culture and Spanish Catholicism.

The heart of the holiday is the honoring of deceased relatives. Gravesites are cleaned, repaired, and decorated with candles, flowers and incense. Inside the home, ofrendas, or home altars, are constructed to welcome back the souls of lost loved ones for a brief visit. Photos and mementos are set out along with special food offerings like pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”), sugar skulls and drinks. (Traditionally pan de muerto is a sweet, yeast-risen egg bread topped by crossed links of dough representing crossbones. There are many variations, however.) The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, and to remind celebrants that death is a natural part of the cycle of life.

Sugar Skulls

Sugar Skulls

When we first moved to Tucson, I knew little about Dia de los Muertos. Indeed, in spite of the large presence of people in Tucson originally from Mexico, I thought there was some sort of local boosterism of The Grateful Dead of which I was unaware. Furthermore, images Frida Kahlo seemed to be an integral part of items sold in stores to be a part of the ofrendas.

Self-Portrait by Frida Kahlo, circa 1937-1938

Self-Portrait by Frida Kahlo, circa 1937-1938

I subsequently learned that Frida Kahlo is enjoying something of a cult status now among those of Mexican heritage. Her embrace of Mexico’s indigenous roots and her dedication to social and political reform in Mexico, combined with her colorful clothing, colorful sex life, and bright paintings, have made her a favorite daughter of Mexico. PBS reported in 2005:

Fifty years after her death, Frida Kahlo’s life and work has inspired over 65,000 Web sites, numerous one-woman shows and art exhibits and even fashion designs. Reproductions of her artwork can be found on mouse pads, furniture and clocks. In 2001, the U.S. Postal Service placed her image on a 34-cent stamp, making her the first Hispanic woman to receive such an honor. All but ignored as an artist during her lifetime, Frida is now studied, analyzed and idealized.”

Photo of Frida Kahlo

Photo of Frida Kahlo

She was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón on July 6, 1907, and lived only until the age of 47. In her brief lifetime she created 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits. She also managed to have love affairs with a number of movers and shakers of the time, including Diego Rivera (whom she married when she was 22 and he was 42), American sculptor Isamu Noguchi , Hungarian born photographer Nickolas Muray, and Communist leader Leon Trotsky.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in 1932

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in 1932

Her work has been called surrealist because of its self-reflective style and emphasis on the subconscious.

My Nurse and I, 1937

My Nurse and I, 1937

This she combined with Mexican folk art which helped distinguish her work. During her lifetime, she sold relatively few paintings, but today her works fetch enormous prices at auction. In 2000, a 1929 self-portrait sold for more than $5 million. And, of course, she has become an important addition to the observation of Dia de los Muertos.


October 1 – National Homemade Cookies Day

As you may know, I generally feel an obligation to observe national holidays. This is why today we are celebrating National Homemade Cookies Day. Our favorite cookies are Peanut Butter Blossoms (you can find a recipe here) but since those are so overly familiar, today I will feature a fun recipe for kids, Toll House Mouse Cookies. These will enable you to exercise your artistic tendencies, in addition to your gluttonous ones.



3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/3 cup NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Baking Cocoa

3/4 cup NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels

NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Morsels


PREHEAT oven to 350° F.

COMBINE flour and baking soda in medium bowl.
Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy.
Gradually beat in flour mixture.
Remove 3/4 cup dough; set aside. 

BEAT cocoa gradually into remaining dough in bowl.
Stir in 3/4 cup morsels.
Roll chocolate dough into 3/4-inch ball.
Place on ungreased baking sheet and press to 1/4-inch thickness.
Roll chocolate dough into two 1/2-inch balls.
Place each above larger circle and press to 1/4-inch thickness for ears.
Roll reserved white dough into 1/4-inch ball and place in center of large circle for nose.
Repeat with remaining doughs, placing cookies 2 inches apart on baking sheet. 

BAKE for 8 to 10 minutes or until dough is set.
Arrange mini morsels on warm cookies for eyes and one on top of nose.
Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; carefully remove to wire racks to cool completely.


After the cookies are baked, you will want to keep them soft and moist. According to The King Arthur Flour bakers, there is a science to this. (Personally we never have this problem because cookies don’t last long enough to get hard. It’s similar to the problem-we-never-have about how best to keep wine after the bottle has been opened.)


They recommend you cover the cookie pan loosely with a clean dish towel as soon as the cookies come out of the oven. Once they are just warm rather than hot, wrap them in plastic wrap. Alternatively, you can wrap them airtight with a “cookie softener” or “sugar softener” – a small piece of porous ceramic that has been soaked in water.

A "sugar softener" shaped like a bear

A “sugar softener” shaped like a bear


Special Note for Gluten-Free People: King Arthur’s store also offers a variety of gluten-free baking mixes. You can also find them at Target, however, along with a variety of Betty Crocker gluten-free mixes.

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 10.26.01 AM

Happy National Homemade Cookies Day!


wkendcookingThis post will be linked to this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. where bloggers share food-related posts. Stop by her blog and see what’s cooking this week!

August 26 – National Dog Day

August 26 is National Dog Day, a holiday to celebrate dogs and all that they do for us, and to welcome those in need into our lives through animal rescue.


It is also a day to acknowledge presidential dogs, those pets that humanize the leaders of the United States. (As President Harry S. Truman famously said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”)

Fido, born around 1855, was Abraham Lincoln’s dog. Residents of Springfield remembered seeing Lincoln walk to the local market with Fido trailing behind carrying a parcel in his mouth.

Picture of Fido from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Picture of Fido from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

When Lincoln was elected president, he decided not to take Fido to Washington, because he was worried the dog would not survive the long train ride. Instead, he gave Fido to two neighbor boys, John and Frank Roll, who promised to take good care of him. Lincoln even gave the Roll family the Lincolns’ horsehair sofa, so that Fido would feel more at home. Shortly before leaving Springfield, the Lincolns took Fido to a photography studio to take his picture.

After Lincoln was assassinated, the Rolls brought Fido to Lincoln’s home to greet the mourners.

Fido died less than a year later.

Some Happy Dog/President Combinations



George W. Bush's dogs, Barney (bottom) and Spot (top) step off Marine One on the south lawn of the White House. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

George W. Bush’s dogs, Barney (bottom) and Spot (top) step off Marine One on the south lawn of the White House. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

The Obamas' dog, holding a press conference

The Obamas’ dog, holding a press conference

Happy National Dog Day!!

Red, White, and Blue on The Fourth of July!

What better way to celebrate The Fourth of July than by having something red, white, and blue (the white referring to whipped cream, ice cream, or even just sugar, of course).

As I observed in a previous post, the American Congress actually voted to approve a resolution of independence from Great Britain on July 2nd, 1776. The Declaration of Independence, explaining the decision of the Second Continental Congress, was approved on July 4th. So there’s no reason not to have a more politically correct observance on July 2nd, and celebrate in a gustatory manner on July 4th! (Or what the heck, celebrate both days!)

I know the popular choices are those desserts that look like flags, like this one:


I, however, prefer a more “sloppy” look, more in keeping with my actual “skills” (or lack thereof.) Therefore, for a great culinary treat, I present several tempting berry recipes in the cobbler family that look like I could actually make them. According to Wikipedia:

In the United States, varieties of cobbler include the Betty, the Grump, the Slump, the Dump, the Buckle, and the Sonker.”

First, we have a probably too-nice looking “buckle” from the King Arthur’s Flour Website, which I include because it combines peaches with the berries, which sounds interesting:


What’s a “buckle” anyway? The definition given at What’s Cooking America? is:

… a type of cake made in a single layer with berries added to the batter. It is usually made with blueberries. The topping is similar to a streusel, which gives it a buckled or crumpled appearance.”

But wait! “Sonkers” sound pretty good too:

A sonker is a deep-dish pie or cobbler served in many flavors including strawberry, peach, sweet potato, and cherry. … It seems to be a dish unique to North Carolina.”

Not only that, but these “sonkers” are traditionally served with what they call a “dip” or custard sauce. That sounds even more appealing! (Although I would just glom on vanilla ice cream….)

This one looks best to me:


There are some great-sounding variations as well. Here is a recipe for a Apple, Pear, Strawberry and Rhubarb Sonker.


Does that sound great or what? Just google “recipe” with grunt or buckle or slump or cobbler (I wouldn’t recommend googling dump) and you’ll find myriad tempting possibilities!

Even Cake Spy gets into the buckle/slump/dump/cobbler action!

Even Cake Spy gets into the buckle/slump/dump/cobbler action!

You can also check out this post at Cake Spy to find out more about the cobbler family, including Brown Bettys, Clafoutis, Pandowdies, and Fools! The best part is, most of these desserts (except, obviously, the French Clafouti), are as appropriately American as, well, apple pie!

Great book for your kids to read while you're preparing the dessert!

Great book for your kids to read while you’re preparing the dessert!

Happy Fourth of July!


This post will be linked to this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. where bloggers share food-related posts. Stop by her blog and see what’s cooking this week!

June 28 – Celebrate Tau Day!

As you know, many people celebrate PI Day by having Pi pie. (See my post on Pi Day, here.) But there is a rival movement afoot to replace Pi Day with Tau Day (and indeed, to replace Pi with Tau as a standard).

Pi, of course, is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter (3.14159265…), currently celebrated on March 14. Tau, or τ, is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its radius. Thus it is twice the amount of π (6.28318530…). (Hence the celebration on June 28.)


Mathematicians are divided on the issue, but to me it makes infinite [sic] sense to celebrate Tau Day, because it implies TWO pieces of pie. TWO pies. This sounds like a good thing.

Two Times PI:

Some 2012 winners from the yearly contest sponsored by the Serious Eats Blog:



Happy 6.28318530717958647692… Day!


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