The Declaration of Independence and The Fourth of July – A Deadly Anniversary?

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe all died on July 4th. Adams and Jefferson, who both signed the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson created the first draft) died on the same day in the same year: July 4, 1826, which was also the fiftieth anniversary of when the Declaration was adopted.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson, gravely ill, barely made it to the Fourth, but was determined to hang on until that date. Adams, meanwhile, unaware that Jefferson had died just hours before, on his death bed reputedly muttered “Thomas Jefferson still lives” before he himself died.

John Adams

John Adams

President James Monroe died on July 4, 1831, exactly five years after Adams and Jefferson died. Monroe did not sign the Declaration, because he was at that time serving in the Continental Army. After the war, however, he studied law as a legal apprentice under Thomas Jefferson. He served in a variety of government positions as well, finally getting elected to the presidency in 1816.

James Monroe

James Monroe

Like James Madison, he remained a mentee of Jefferson, tried to live like he did (he built a mansion near Monticello), and even tried to die like him. In that respect, he was successful. (Madison tried his best, but died on June 28 of 1836, missing out by only a week on the chance for a Superfecta.)

James Madison

James Madison

June 12 – National Peanut Butter Cookie Day

As you undoubtedly are aware, today is National Peanut Butter Cookie Day. Throughout the years on this blog, I have posted many paeans to peanut butter, and have also told you how we are a divided household, with creamy for me and crunchy for Jim. And, just as Dave Barry said in his amusing book, How to Become a Successful Writer Without Really Trying:

There is basically nothing in my kitchen that I have not, at one time or another . . . smeared peanut butter on. I include pot holders in that statement.”

The National Peanut Board says it takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter, so yes, I kind of feel guilty for all the peanuts I personally decimate.

On my Pinterest Board for recipes, many of the recipes you will see include either chocolate, peanut butter, or both. (Viz: Peanut Butter Cup Overload Cake, Monkey Peanut Butter Bars, Crock Pot Peanut Butter Cup Cake, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cake, and so on.) (Just to fake people out, most of my other recipes involve quinoa.)

Peanut Butter Cup Overload Cake

Peanut Butter Cup Overload Cake

According to ABC News, the peanut butter cookie was invented in the 1910′s, when George Washington Carver of Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute published a peanut cookbook in an effort to promote the crop.  The cookbook titled How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption included several recipes for cookies that called for chopped peanuts.  Peanut butter was added to the cookies 20 years later along with the fork marks that are associated with the cookie today.

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What will I be making to celebrate this holiday? I’m thinking Peanut Butter Cookie with Toffee and Chocolate Chips. The recipe, from Back For Seconds Blog, is here:

Ingredients
• 3/4 cups unsalted butter (softened)
• 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
• 2 tablespoons canola oil
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 3/4 cups brown sugar (packed)
• 1 egg
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
• 1 1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
• 1 cup toffee bits

Directions

Preheat oven to 350
In a mixing bowl cream the butter, peanut butter, oil, and sugars.
Add egg and salt and mix again.
Add baking soda and flour gradually until incorporated. Do not over mix.
Stir in chips and toffee.
Drop by rounded teaspoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet 2″ apart.
Bake 6 minutes.
Cool on wire racks and store in an airtight container.

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Happy Peanut Butter Cookie Day!!

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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!

April 26 – National Pretzel Day

As you probably know, today is National Pretzel Day.

According to Wikipedia, this is the definition of a pretzel:

A pretzel … is a type of baked food made from dough in soft and hard varieties and savory or sweet flavors in a unique knot-like shape, originating in Europe. The pretzel shape is a distinctive symmetrical looped form, with the ends of a long strip of dough intertwine brought together and then twisted back onto itself in a certain way (“a pretzel loop”).”

pretzel_1

According to The Book of Threes, the term “tying the knot” grew out of the inclusion of pretzels in wedding ceremonies:

The couple wished upon and broke a pretzel like a wishbone, then ate it to signify their oneness. A 17th century woodcut copied from a stained glass window in a cathedral in Berne, Switzerland, shows the pretzel being used as the “marriage knot” between two royal families.”

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We go through a lot of pretzels, our favorite being Snyder’s of Hanover Sourdough in the box. Snyder’s has a great pinterest page on which they collect fun pretzel recipes, like this peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough dip for pretzels.

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But I bet they don’t have the recipe for Hearing Aid Pretzels.

As you may know, Jim, my blog co-writer and verbal sparing mate, has a congenital hearing disability. He needs the sound on the television turned up way too loud for me to co-exist in the same room (or even the same universe), so when he watches tv, he takes out his hearing aids and puts in TV Ears. (I love their ad – shown below – with the caption “TV Ears Saved Our Marriage” because it’s totally true!)

3.0-Couple-with-stroke

One day, Jim was watching an especially intense football game, and I got him a bowl of pretzels and put it on the table next to him, where he also had placed his hearing aids (since you have to take them out to use TV Ears.) He never took his eyes off the screen, but kept inputting the pretzels, until he came to one that just wasn’t crunching up like it should. Yes, it turned out to be a $3,000 “pretzel”! I’m not posting that recipe on Pinterest. Just saying.

natlpretzelday

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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!

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…

pi-day-2011-2d9be35

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:

TJ-pie-equation

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

Pi_pie2


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?

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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.

lead-new-years-ball

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!

StuffingVegan_thanks

Sunday Treat – National Peanut Butter Lovers Month

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

peanut_butter_lovers

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.

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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!]

His

His

Hers

Hers

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.

peanut-butter-ice-cream-17-600

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!

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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.

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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.

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Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

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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.)

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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

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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.

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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!

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