New Year’s Eve: Let It Drop!

Many of us wait up until midnight to watch the ball drop from Time’s Square in New York City. But a lot of other cities participate in New Year’s Eve celebrations, and some of them drop some very strange things, such as in that “other” Manhattan (“The Little Apple” as opposed to “The Big Apple”), in Kansas, where a red delicious apple is dropped at midnight from a building at the corner of Manhattan Avenue and Broadway.

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Other cities drop other oversized items: Atlanta, Georgia drops an 800-pound peach; Gainesville Georgia (“the poultry capital of the world”) drops a chicken; Plymouth, Wisconsin drops a big block of cheese at midnight. Prescott, Arizona drops a cowboy boot and Show Low, Arizona drops a two of clubs. Pennsylvania probably has the biggest number of unusual drops, including a giant wooden sled (Duncannon, Pennsylvania), a giant marshmallow Peep (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania), a 700-pound stainless steel mushroom (outside of Philadelphia), a 16-foot Lebanon Bologna in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, a giant strawberry in Harrisburg, and a giant crayon in Easton, inter alia.

Boot drop in Prescott, Arizona

Boot drop in Prescott, Arizona

A relatively new popular event takes place in Mobile, Alabama. Ever since New Year’s Eve in 2008, a twelve-foot tall electronic MoonPie is dropped from a 34-story building. The event is known as “MoonPie Over Mobile.” (A traditional MoonPie consists of two round graham cracker cookies with marshmallow filling in the center, dipped in chocolate.)

MoonPie Over Mobile

MoonPie Over Mobile

Chattanooga Bakery started making MoonPies in 1917, in response to a request from local coal miners who wanted something they could eat without stopping for an actual break which they couldn’t take. When the bakery salesman asked how big this treat should be, a miner held out his hands, framed the moon, and said, “About that big!”

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You may ask, isn’t Chattanooga in Tennessee? Why does a MoonPie drop in Mobile? The answer is related to Mobile’s Mardi Gras celebration. Mardi Gras in Mobile is the oldest annual Carnival celebration in the United States, having started in 1703. This was fifteen years before New Orleans was founded, although today the celebrations in New Orleans are more widely known. (Mobile, it should be noted, was the first capital of French Louisiana, which is not the same thing as The Louisiana Territory. A map of French Louisiana is shown below).

French Louisiana was the name of French-controlled land in North America; this map shows territorial holdings in around 1750.

French Louisiana was the name of French-controlled land in North America; this map shows territorial holdings in around 1750.

In Mobile, some 33 different groups stage the major parades each year for Mardi Gras over a three-week periods.

Cache of Mobile Mardi Gras throws

Cache of Mobile Mardi Gras throws

During the parades, members of societies (“krewes”) on floats toss gifts known as throws to the public, that might include plastic beads, doubloon coins, decorated plastic cups, candy, wrapped cakes/snacks, stuffed animals, and small toys, footballs, frisbees, or whistles. It used to be that Cracker Jacks were thrown, but their rectangular boxes could injure people, and they were banned in the early Seventies. MoonPies had been used by some as throws since the 1950‘s, but after the Cracker Jack ban, the soft wrapped treat took over as the signature throw. In 2012, more than 3 million Moon Pies were tossed from floats. With the MoonPie now being an unofficial emblem of Mobile, and Mardi Gras being very big business in Mobile, the MoonPie was first used for the New Year’s Eve drop in 2008. In addition, the Chattanooga Bakery creates a giant edible MoonPie to carve up for partiers.

50-pound MoonPie served to revelers on Dec. 30, 2008, in downtown Mobile

50-pound MoonPie served to revelers on Dec. 30, 2008, in downtown Mobile

Happy New Year!!!

Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth!

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Merry Christmas!!

November 27, 2014 – Happy Thanksgiving (Wait: Is That THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVING?)

You may be wondering what Jim and I argue about besides issues like the efficacy of torture or the relevance of cost-benefit analysis for economic behavior. The answer is: whose regional pronunciation is superior? When someone dies do you “bury” them or “berry” them? Is it “sawsage” or “sahhsage” on the pizza? Is it CORNED beef or corned BEEF, BREAD pudding or bread PUDDING?

Joshua Katz, a doctoral student studying statistics at NC State University, recently created interactive dialect maps using data from Bert Vaux at the University of Cambridge. How you pronounce “Thanksgiving” also depends on where you live… (Click here and select question 47 for a larger view.)

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Happy ThanksGIVING!!

October is National Pizza Month (Or Not)

If you google “National Pizza Month” you will find a gazillion hits alleging that Congress designated this holiday in 1987. However, if you check through the bills passed by Congress that year, you will not find such a declaration. [You will, however, find all kinds of other designations, such as for a National Dairy Goat Awareness Week and a National Tap Dance Day and even a National Day of Excellence (wait: just one DAY?)].

But no matter: Congress should have done it, so we’ll celebrate anyway! Because approximately three BILLION pizzas are sold in the U.S. every year, two billion of them going to MY house.

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On average, every person in the U.S. consumes around 23 pounds of pizza each year. (Again, that average is skewed by the number of pounds eaten by my husband and me, and for that matter, by the number of pounds acquired by my husband and me after consuming all that pizza.)

The top 5 pizza sales days are Super Bowl Sunday, New Year’s Eve, Halloween, the night before Thanksgiving, & New Year’s Day. In our house, the top pizza consumption days are Saturday and Sunday (“treat days”) and then other days for leftovers.

In spite of the fact that this pizza consumption kills off some 252 million pounds of pepperonis a year, we don’t do pepperoni. Neither do we go for the pizza toppings popular in Japan, which include squid and Mayo Jaga (mayonaise, potato and bacon).

According to the Guinness World Records site, the most expensive pizza commercially available is a thin-crust, wood fire-baked pizza topped with onion puree, white truffle paste, fontina cheese, baby mozzarella, pancetta, cep mushrooms, freshly picked wild mizuna lettuce and garnished with fresh shavings of a rare Italian white truffle. Depending upon the amount of truffles available each season, the pizza is regularly sold at £100 each to customers of Gordon Ramsey’s Maze restaurant, London, UK.

We don’t do that kind of pizza either. We like lots of cheese. I like mushrooms and onions. Jim occasionally insists on an add-on of sausage because he, after all, was born in Chicago. But I insist on strict lines of demarcation between his half and mine. Here is a recipe I have used for a wonderful pizza. It is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks: The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two by Anna Thomas:

Basic Short-Crust Pastry

1 ½ cups flour
½ to ¾ tsp. salt
½ cup butter, well chilled
scant 1/3 cup ice water

Sift together the flour and the salt. Slice the cold butter rapidly and drop the slices into the flour. With a pastry cutter or two sharp knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal.

Sprinkle the ice water over the flour-butter mixture and stir it in very quickly with a fork, until the dough gathers together. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in wax paper or foil, and chill it for about 2 hours.

Makes enough dough for 1 large (11 or 12 inch) quiche shell.

Preparing the shell

On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out in a circle about 2 ½ inches larer than your quiche pan. Roll the circle of dough loosely around your rolling in and unroll it over the quiche pan, centering it as well as possible. Press the sides in against the rim of the pan, pushing the extra dough down a bit to make an edge that is slightly thicker than the bottom. Trim the dough off with a sharp knife, about ¼ inch above the rim of the pan.

Crimp the ridge of dough neatly just about the rim of the pan. Prick the bottom of the shell all over with a fork, and chill the shell for ½ hr.

Prebake the shell in a preheated 450 oven for about 8 minutes, prick again with a fork, and return to the hot oven for another 4-5 minutes, or until the bottom of the shell begins to color. Allow the shell to cool slightly on a rack, then fill and finish baking according to recipe.

Cheese and Tomato Deep Dish Pizza

1 recipe Basic Short-Crust Pastry (or what the heck, buy it pre-made)
3 lbs. ripe tomatoes
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried basil, crushed
fresh-ground black pepper to taste
1 lbs. yellow onions
2 Tbs. butter
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ lb. mozzarella cheese

Prepare the short crust, line an 11-inch quiche pan with it, and prebake according to instructions above.

Chop the tomatoes coarsely, reserving their juice. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sauté the garlic in it for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, ½ tsp of the salt, the basil, and a little fresh-ground black pepper. Simmer this sauce, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced by about half. It should be quite thick.

Peel, halve, and thickly slice the onions. Saute them in the butter until they are golden and sprinkle them with the ¼ tsp salt.

Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the bottom of the quiche shell. Arrange the sautéed onion slices over it in an even layer. Cover the onions with the tomato sauce.

Cut the mozzarella in thin strips and arrange them evenly on top of the tomato sauce. Slice the olives off their pits and sprinkle the olive bits over the mozzarella cheese.

Bake the pie for 35 minutes in a preheated oven at 375 and serve hot.

Serves 6 to 8.

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Happy Quasi-Legal Pizza 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!

August 22 – National Eat A Peach Day

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Today is a day to celebrate peaches.

The peach is actually a member of the rose family and originated in China, as ascertained by genetic studies. There are two main varieties of peaches and one hybrid form: clingstone (the flesh sticks to the stone), freestone (the stone is easily separated from the flesh), and semi-free.

Peach flower, fruit, seed and leaves as illustrated by Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1885)

Peach flower, fruit, seed and leaves as illustrated by Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1885)

Could you really imagine celebrating Eat a Peach Day without considering making a cobbler? No, unthinkable. And since there are so many blueberries around too, I think it would only be appropriate to combine them.

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There are some great looking recipes all over the Web and Pinterest. Two that look especially good to me are at Picky Palate and Homestyle Report.

The picture shown below comes from another good recipe at The Browneyed Baker, a cook who always knows the importance of adding a dollop of ice cream to the top of whatever you’re serving!

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As you may know if you follow this blog, my favorite poem is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, which includes the famous stanzas:

I grow old … I grow old …

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?”

On this day, I think the answer is decidedly YES.

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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!

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!

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