holidays

The Ethical Easter Basket Tastes Sweeter

fairtradeeastereverybunny_webfairtradeeasterchocolate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the year of the ethical Easter basket, but it doesn’t have to make you a killjoy.

Food activists of all stripes are bringing their agendas to the spring holiday reminding us of all the pesticides and food dyes and GMOs and child labor that create cheap chocolate bunnies and tongue-staining jelly eggs.

Roll your eyes if you must at the litany of fair trade, cruelty-free, shade-grown, bird-friendly, carbon neutral causes, but the designations and certifications aren’t mere marketing ploys to ease a guilty conscience. They have real, enforceable teeth that guarantee the soundness of manufacturing and growing practices. The hard truth is that a conventional Easter basket is a treat for you but it can be an environmental and humanitarian nightmare for someone else.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ethical alternatives for all your jelly beans, pastel marshmallows, and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs:

tims-real-easter-basket-grass-home

 

Tim’s Real Easter Basket Grass
lose the chemical-laden shredded plastic and go organic from the ground up


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YumEarth Jelly Beans
they’re organic with no gluten, dairy, nuts, soy, artificial colors, or dyes

 

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Not Peeps, Veeps
they’re vegan; who knew there’s a pork byproduct lurking in the conventional marshmallow bunnies?


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Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks
don’t forget about Annie’s many organic bunny products, available year-round

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Sjaak’s Chocolate Easter Eggs
fairly traded, organic, vegan, and best of all they come in really big tubs

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Lake Champlain chocolate bunnies
always widely available and this year they’ve gone fair trade and organic

 

 

 

Posted in candy, Easter, sustainability | Leave a comment

Nothing Says ‘I Love You’ Like Custom, Edible, and Anatomically Correct

gumpaste mold via CK Products

gumpaste mold via CK Products

 

When flowers just wont do…
Digital imaging and 3D printing put a modern spin on Valentines gift-giving.

Choc-Edge-3D-printed-face

 

Choc-Edge will render your face or your beloved’s in dark, milk, or white chocolate. Just send in a photo; custom molds start at $80.

 

parkerscookie

 

Parker’s Crazy Cookies turns your likeness into a caricature of fresh-baked goodness. The design process costs $25 for an initial proof and three revisions, and then you can order all the cookies you want.

gummymold

 

It’s hard to top the Valentines Day gummy mini-me, but unfortunately it’s currently available only in Japan. A 3D scanner maps you from head to toe to create a detailed silicone model that’s turned into a candy mold.

wedding-cake-toppers-superman-couple

 

Fondant doppelgänger cake toppers aren’t just for wedding cakes. Like Butter creates plenty of custom, edible sculptures (starting at $60) in the days leading up to February 14th.

 

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Send in a photo and Chocolate Dreams will render pretty much any shape or image in chocolate, even so-called exotic designs that they claim are ‘not for the fainthearted.’

 

 

Posted in chocolate, shopping, Valentines Day | Leave a comment

Reports of Holiday Weight Gain Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

image via Shelton Crossfit

image via Shelton Crossfit

 

Holiday weight gain is a bit of a myth.
The perception is that we really pack on the pounds. According to a classic study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Americans vastly overestimate how fattening the holidays are. We think we’re likely to gain at least five pounds, while the reality, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a typical weight gain of between 0.4 and 1.8 pounds. That’s an average gain of just about one pound despite six weeks of free-flowing eggnog from Thanksgiving through New Years.

That’s the good news.
The bad news is that over the years, the weight adds up. 
It’s just one extra holiday pound, but most people hang on to it. Weight is on an upward creep throughout most of our lives, from early adulthood to the peak of middle-age spread. We tend to accumulate about two pounds during each of those years, and half of that can be traced to holiday indulgence.

Another myth: you’ll lose the weight at the gym.
Every January millions of Americans pat their soft little holiday bellies and vow to get fit in the new year. It’s one of the most common resolutions, and health club rosters overflow with well-intentioned new members. Gym owners are all too happy to offer January deals and promotions because they know that the overflowing yoga classes and treadmill lines will be gone before the end of the month. A full 60% of annual gym memberships go unused after the first six weeks of every new year. Our collective failure to keep our fitness resolutions is the easiest money those gym owners see all year.

We don’t fare any better with a January menu of cottage cheese and green tea. 
40% of all New Year’s resolutions relate to diet and weight loss, but women typically revert to old eating habits by January 6th, with men holding out for another week. Men are more weak-willed about cutting out alcohol, usually making it only as far as the first weekend of the new year, while women abstain for two weeks.

Dogs and cats pack on the pounds too. 
We’re just as indulgent with our pets at holiday time. The average dog gets an extra 500 calories worth of table scraps from a single holiday dinner and cats get 200 extra calories. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, pets, like their owners, pack on the human equivalent of around two pounds by year’s end.

 

Posted in diet, holidays, New Years | Leave a comment

Standing Out From the Crowd With the $450 Starbucks Metal Card

status mug available at Zazzle.com

status mug available at Zazzle.com

 

The Starbucks card is the most ‘gifted’ item in America.
Last December, 1 in 10 adults received one as a holiday gift. This season, the company expects it will be closer to 1 in 5. And then there’s the Starbucks Metal card. For the second year in a row  Starbucks is rolling out an ultra-limited edition gift card just in time for holiday giving. For the low, low price of $450 the card gets you $400 worth of coffee.

That’s not a typo. $450 gets you a card preloaded with $400 in store credit. Oh, and you also get a gold-level Starbucks card membership, a frequent buyer perk that gets you some freebies like drink refills and a birthday frappuccino, but those benefits are already free to regular customers who sign up for the My Starbucks Rewards program. Still, they plan to sell 1,000 of the cards through the luxury goods website Gilt.

Why stop at 1,000? Did they forget that there’s one born every minute?
Starbucks calls it the Metal Card and it really is made of metal. Watching someone pay for coffee with a slab of etched steel is a little like seeing Fred Flintstone buying his brontosaurus burgers with a stone credit card issued by the Bank of Bedrock. Conspicuous? You bet. Isn’t that the point? Last year’s Metal Cards sold out in less than a minute and then immediately popped up on sites like eBay and Craigslist where they were flipped for as much as $1,000. It was a tidy profit for Gilt shoppers while the new buyers ended up with a couple hundred dollars worth of vastly over-priced lattés. Clearly it’s not just about the coffee.

5,000 Metal Cards were sold in 2012, but this year Starbucks plans to limit the offering to a mere 1,000.
While that just about guarantees that the next guy in line won’t have the Metal Card in his wallet too, it’s hard to see how the card confers some kind of insider status. Starbucks lost its aura of exclusivity the minute it opened its first shop outside of the Seattle city limits. You can’t be an insider to something that you can buy on every street corner, turnpike rest stop, and hospital cafeteria.

It might not be exclusive, but the Starbucks Metal card will be scarce. But who really wants a $12 cappuccino anyway?

 

 

Posted in coffee, holidays | Leave a comment

Detox Away the Turkey Weight

image via Ayay.uk

image via Ayay.uk

 

Are you feeling the turkey weight?
The typical Thanksgiving meal was a whopping 4,500 calories. That’s two day’s-worth of food for most of us, or, to put it in especially vivid perspective, the equivalent of nine large orders of McDonald’s fries. 
Is it any wonder that you woke up feeling overstuffed and bloated?

This holiday season is just getting going.
It’s too soon to be feeling a pinch in your waistband. But it’s the perfect time for a between-holidays detox. Flush the alcohol, sugar, and toxins out of your body now and you can boost your immune system and improve metabolic function through the rest of the season.

There are plenty of online resources to prep you for a few more weeks of bacchanalian excess.
Detoxification blogs like The Detoxinista and Detox the World are full of seasonal suggestions..
A variety of approaches are taken by smartphone detox apps:

The app from Juice Master has a 3-day juice detox  that will have you losing up to five pounds in just 72 hours.

How to Detox Your Body leaves you sparkling on the inside with colon cleansing regimens. Detox Diet Pro claims to do the same but without enemas and colonic. This app shows you how to flush out the liver, intestines, kidneys, lungs, skin, blood, and lymphatic systems through a very high fiber diet.

The Health Detox promotes an acid and alkaline balanced diet that claims to boost your energy level by optimizing your body’s pH balance.

There are apps for detoxing on all raw foods, or by following the lemon regimen popularized by Beyoncé’s post-partum detox. You can find gender-specific detox apps like Body Detox 4 Women and Man Up Detox, or learn to detox with smoothies.

The Official Online Holiday Detox Kit professes to understand:
to overdo it is human. to overdo it over the holidays is almost mandatory. we’re here to help. choose your flavor of holiday splurging, confess your excess, and get the perfect detox plan.”
Just enter your specific overindulgence into the quick and easy online tool and it suggests the appropriate cure.

Posted in health + diet, holidays, phone applications | Leave a comment

There’s Just One Kind of Turkey in This Great Big Land of Plenty

image via Minnesota Turkey Growers Association

image via Minnesota Turkey Growers Association

 

Everyone in America eats the exact same turkey.
Of the 242 million turkeys raised this year, maybe 30,000 of them are not broad-breasted whites.

Virtually every turkey bred in the U.S. comes from a single genetic line. Even most free-range farmed turkeys have been raised from poults purchased from large-scale breeders working from that line. The broad-breasted white is a genetically-engineered hybrid developed in the 1970′s. It was bred to be ‘broad-breasted’ because breast meat sells, and ‘white’ because that way the little feathers missed in plucking won’t show, cutting down on processing costs.

The broad-breasted white is a triumph of efficiency in factory farming.
It was engineered to convert the minimum amount of feed into the maximum amount of white breast meat in the shortest possible amount of time. The turkeys are ready for market in as little as 12 weeks and 70% of the weight is breast. The over-sized breasts make it impossible for appropriate body parts to meet, so 100% of factory-farmed turkeys are the result of artificial insemination. By contrast, heritage breeds take seven months to reach market and are about 50% dark meat. The heritage designation demands that they mate naturally with no human intervention. 

A lot of turkey parts have to fall by the wayside to get that much breast meat on a broad-breasted white.
Mass market turkeys have scrawny legs and tiny little skeletons. Their body cavities are so small that their organs are too crowded to reach full functionality. They’re too frail and top-heavy to walk, roost, or fly, often painfully crippled by the stress of all that breast weight perched on under-sized frames. Industrial producers actually prefer immobilized turkeys because there’s no chance of movement that could lead to muscle development. They want to see all of the growth aimed toward the singular goal of breast production.

The broad-breasted white turkey is not a robust bird.
Their oversized breasts constrict their lungs so that they are constantly starved for oxygen. They develop the cardiovascular diseases that seem to find the overweight and sedentary members of every species. Even if they’re not headed to slaughter, the ‘natural’ life-span of these turkeys is only a year or two, versus the eight to twelve year life expectancy of heritage breeds. There’s nothing robust about their flavor either. All that white meat is flabby; the protein level is low, the taste is mild, and the texture is soft. Gaminess and chew have been bred out, and while broad-breasted whites are higher in fat than other breeds, there’s none of the richness.

A naturally raised, free range broad-breasted white turkey can be a vast improvement over a factory farmed specimen. It has a foraged diet and develops muscle mass that contribute to superior flavor. But for a turkey that tastes like a turkey should taste, you’ll have to seek out a heritage breed. ‘Heritage’ is not a federally-regulated term, and it’s an over-used marketing buzzword, but a true heritage turkey is one of the ten specific breeds that were raised in the U.S. prior to the 1950′s when the poultry industry began to genetically engineer turkeys on the way to developing the broad-breasted white.

Don’t eat a Thanksgiving turkey that tastes like every other turkey in America.
You can order a heritage breed turkey online at Heritage Foods USA and D’ArtagnanOn the east coast, Mary’s Turkeys can direct you to local markets that carry their birds. Local Harvest and the The US Ark of Taste at Slow Food USA both maintain national directories of heritage turkey farms, markets, and breeders.

Breed makes a huge difference to the taste of chickens too. Read about heritage chicken varieties in Chicken. Just Chicken.

 

Posted in food business, holidays, Thanksgiving | 1 Comment

For The Terducken Curious

cartoon via Dr. Fun

cartoon via Dr. Fun

 

By now, the turducken should need no introduction.
In the span of a few years, it’s gone from urban legend to regional curiosity to your neighborhood Whole Foods freezer. You can buy fresh or frozen turduckens; free range, organic, and kosher turduckens; turducken for your pet (canned or dry); and a mock tofu-based turducken for vegans (with apologies, the tofucken).

When plain old turducken just won’t do, there are endless can-you-top-this variations like the fowl de cochon (turducken stuffed pig) and the quaducant (quail, duck, and pheasant). At the opposite end of the spectrum is the hotchken, known as the poor man’s turducken, consisting of a humble chicken stuffed with hotdogs. This year’s rare collision of the Thanksgiving and Hanukah holidays is bringing a never-again-in-this-lifetime-please brisket stuffed turkey  (the tursket) to some tables.
For those who like to keep track of these things, the largest documented nested bird roast is the rôti sans pareil, or ‘roast without equal,consisting of 17 successively stuffed birds, starting with a 5-foot long Great Bustard and finishing with a 5-inch Garden Warbler, so tiny that can be stuffed with no more than a single olive.

The turducken effect has spilled over its poultry borders.
A cookie is baked inside of a cookie to create the chocoOreochip, and a cream cheese-frosted behemoth known as the cherpumple bakes entire cherry, pumpkin, and apple pies inside the tiers of a three-layer cake, laying claim to the title of the turducken of desserts. The online magazine The Bold Italic asks the question ‘why stop at the turducken?’ suggesting stitched-together hybrids for every part of the meal. The stufftatobrussyamberry combines stuffing plus all the traditional side dishes in a marshmallow-topped terrine; and the coffwinder brings together a meal’s worth of beverages in nested glasses of a cider aperitif, wine, and after-dinner coffee.

Turn your relatives into a turducken. 
The Bold Italic doesn’t stop with the menu. They figure that a little turducken-style tinkering can keep the inevitable family dramas to a minimum. The cousunclma packs all of your least favorite family members into a single body. 
If only Thanksgiving could really be so simple.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_fOzYgq3p3O4/TAgnOAPWy0I/AAAAAAAAAdo/4f4jopg4jAw/s1600/12birds_600.jpgThe terducken– like Russian nesting dolls rendered in pimply poultry flesh

http://www.seriouseats.com/images/20100111-cherpumple.jpg       brusselsThe mighty Cherpumple and the multi-tasking Stufftatobrussyamberry

familyfamilyThanksgiving with the cousunclma–just seat him at the opposite end of the table.

Posted in funny, holidays, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

As Seen On TV: Gifts that make a lump of coal look good

Remember when fruitcake used to be the worst food gift for holiday giving?

hamdogger rollnpour eggstractor

Now we have the HamDogger, and the Roll ‘n Pour, and the Eggstractor.

Holiday time ’tis the season for kitchen gadget infomercials.
The airwaves fill with long-winded, fast-talking pitchmen hawking the latest gizmo that no home should be without. They come on late at night when your guard is down and the logic of a push-button butter dispenser seems less dubious than it would at 3pm.

Resist the urge!
Especially when they tempt you with a two-fer offer. Your holiday shopping may be too long, and when you shop on TV that second one can be had for nothing more than the cost of shipping and handling, but deep down you know that a matched set of Rotato Express electric peelers is not the answer. It only doubles the chances of things ending badly on Christmas Day.

pancakepuffs

 

According to the ad for the amazing new Pancake Puff™ Pan, simply use your favorite pancake batter, pour and flip.’ Amazing.

 

betterbagger

 

Better Bagger? Actually, I’ve always considered my hands to be pretty good baggers. 

 

fatmagnet

I’m holding out for the Fat Repellant.

robostir

 

 

 

 

Robostir promises to be ‘like a third hand in the kitchen.’ No mention of the contraption’s plastic feet that fall off in the pot.

 

 


rollie-eggmaster-cooking-system-1Egg-Genie-Electric-Egg-Cookereggcracker

 

Eggs are like the Law and Order franchise of the infomercial world with their own programming block. There are the tubular creations of the Rollie Eggmaster; the Egg Genie that magically combines water and eggs to create boiled eggs (in just minutes!); and the Clever Cracker and Clever Scrambler, two separate devices that are available in a combo pack. Who knew so many cooks are stumped by eggs?

 

big-top-cupcake

 

If a little cake is a cupcake, wouldn’t that make this… cake?

 

 

buy-bake-popsDoes-Pop-N-Fun-work

 

 

Tough call: cake pop baker or pie pop maker?

 

 

Let’s let the fortune cookie maker decide.  fortunecookie

 

 

 

 

Posted in Christmas, Entertainment, gadgets | 1 Comment

Thanksgiving and Hanukah: A Mash-Up of Biblical Proportions

grant-wood-american-gothic-1930

American Gothic Thanksgivukkah via The Modern Tribe

 

It’s never happened before, and won’t happen again for 80 millennia.
Thanksgiving Day and the first day of Hanukah fall on the same day this year. 
November 28th, 2013 is going to be epic.

You already know that the Jewish calendar is screwy.
Some years the big fall holidays pop up around Labor Day, and sometimes we’re juggling Rosh Hashona and the World Series. And this year, the daffy dating gives us a once-in-an-eternity collision.

The standard calendar has leap years. The Jewish calendar has leap months.
A standard year is based on one circuit of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The orbit actually takes 365 days plus about six hours; we add February 29th every four years to catch up to those extra hours.
The Hebrew calendar is based on 12 lunar months, each of 29 or 30 days, but with a nod to the 365 day solar year. Sticklers will note that a moon cycle is 28 days, but it takes an extra day or two to chase the Earth while it’s orbiting the Sun. Still, 12 lunar months only add up to 354 days, so every few years the Jewish calendar plays catch-up by inserting a 13th month (7 out of 19 years, to be exact).
Got that?

Hey sticklers, here’s another one for you.
The mathematically inclined are scratching their heads. It looks like the cycle should repeat every 133 years (7 x 19), so how can this be the first time we’re seeing this overlap?
It’s because even with all the leap year tinkering, the Hebrew calendar is still a little bit off. The Jewish year is 3½ seconds too long, so Chanukah is drifting a tiny bit ahead of Thanksgiving every year. It’s picking up a day every 217 years, and at that rate it’s about 80,000 years before the calendars are back in sync.

Once every 80,000 years sounds about right. Both holidays have traditional meals that sit like lead in the belly. You really don’t want to eat them in the same week very often. In fact back-to-back feasts are so daunting a prospect that most Jewish households plan to combine the two into a single gala event that’s been dubbed Thanksgivukkah.

Pilgrims and rabbis. Turkey and latkes. Cornucopias and gelt.
You’ll soon be staring down a double barrel of hybrid holidays. You’re going to need help.

Kitchen Daily and Chabad.org have collections of American Hanukkah Thanksgiving recipes, while noncooks can find caterers offering Thanksgiving brisket with all the trimmings.

Manischewitz launched an online contest for short videos about Thanksgivukkah, and a Jewish congregation on Long Island is holding a recipe competition.

There’s no shortage of holiday merchandise. Of course you’ll find the usual t shirts, sweatshirts, and greeting cards. You can fill your menorah with autumnally-hued candles and your dreidel with kosher candy corn. Extravagantly trim your house with single-season menornaments (menorah + ornament) and menurkeys (a turkey menorah with tailfeather candleholders), while the more practical-minded might opt for a double-duty cook’s apron. The dreidel side reverses to turkeys, giving it life beyond Thanksgivukkah.

After dinner you can gather Grandma and the kids for an old-timey game of Thanksgivukkah Bingo, courtesy of sisters Dana and Deborah Gitell. The holiday’s most enthusiastic boosters, Dana owns the trademark and URL to Thanksgivukkah.

Get ready. Thanksgivukkah is coming….

Posted in diversions, holidays, Thanksgiving | 3 Comments

Nearing Thanksgiving, Our Sexiest Smelling Holiday

 

image via Sensing Architecture

image via Sensing Architecture

 

Food might be the way to a man’s heart, but the smell of food aims a little lower.

Research performed at the Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago discovered that certain food smells are like olfactory Viagra, significantly increasing blood flow to the penis for men and to the vagina for women.

Thanksgiving—the sexiest holiday?
Men are easy, pretty much turned on by all food smells, but pumpkin pie is special. In combination with other foods, the smell of pumpkin pie increases penile blood flow by 40%.

Top scents for men:
pumpkin pie (especially with a lavender chaser)
black licorice with doughnuts
pumpkin pie with doughnuts
Pizza, buttered popcorn, and cinnamon buns round out the list of top turn-ons. Cranberry and chocolate were the least favored, with response rates as low as 2%.
 
Wouldn’t you know it?
The female sexual response is not so simple. While pretty much any food scent is arousing to men, women are more discriminating, turned on by some and turned off by others.
Top scents for women:
Good & Plenty candy combined with cucumber
Good & Plenty candy with banana bread
Pumpkin pie, coffee, vanilla, and grilled meats also do the trick for women.
Mood killers
While men have little to no response to less-favored fragrances, women actually have negative responses, exhibiting a reduced flow of blood to the genitals. Turn-offs for women include cherries and barbecue, except for the ladies of Atlanta and Houston who are inexplicably stimulated by these scents.
Love is in the air. You just need to sniff it out.
 

 

Posted in diversions, Thanksgiving | 1 Comment

America Has Spoken: These Are Our Most Patriotic Foods

image via SaysIt.com/The Uncle Sam Poster Generator

image via SaysIt.com/The Uncle Sam Poster Generator

 

The Fourth is Number One.
Memorial Day and Labor get their own weekends, but we still manage to squeeze in more classic American eating on the 4th of July.

According to data from the top online ordering service Seamless, hamburgers are America’s most-ordered Independence Day restaurant dish. They hold down the number one spot on all three summer holidays, but spike dramatically on July 4th, nearly doubling the orders placed on Memorial Day and Labor Day. The Fourth also leads restaurant orders for corn on the cob, hot dogs, and apple pie.

When it comes to backyard barbecues, hot dogs still rule. 
According to the National Sausage and Hot Dog Council Americans will eat 7 billion hot dogs over the summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The 4th of July is the single biggest hot dog day of the season with 150 million served. Add to it the 750 million pounds of barbecued chickens  we’ll go through and there’s a 1 in 4 chance that you’ll be eating one of those two grilled foods.

Beer is in a class all its own. 
The 4th of July is the biggest beer drinking day of the year accounting for 5% of the nation’s annual beer consumption. It’s a billion dollar sales day that the Beer Institute ranks ahead of Labor Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and even Super Bowl Sunday. Last year beer was the largest selling category of all food and beverage categories for the two weeks leading up to the July 4th holiday.

Some food and beverage marketers will drape themselves in stars and stripes to capture a piece of the holiday action.
That’s how we end up with Benjamin Franklin selling discount mattresses for a TV commercial and Oreos stuffed with limited edition blue filling.

The market researchers at Brand Keys looked at the business of marketing patriotism.
They surveyed thousands of consumers from every region of the country, gathering opinions on 197 brands in 35 categories. The brands that are broadly recognized as most patriotic are not necessarily the ones that engage in the flag-waving call-to-emotion. Some, like Budweiser beer, aren’t even American-owned. But they are all American icons. Their values represent a notion or aspect of America, and those values are deeply ingrained in the brand’s equity. We need to see that a brand’s engagement is genuine and credible if we’re going to engage emotionally with it ourselves.

Three iconic food brands were among the top 10 drawn from all categories: Hershey’s, Coca-Cola, and Wrigley’s. Other food and beverage brands that made the top 50 include McDonalds, Campbell’s, Kellogg’s, and Budweiser.

 

 

Posted in food business, holidays, trends | Leave a comment

Modern Matzo

[matzah iPhone case available at Sealed with a Case]

[iPhone case available at Sealed With a Case]

 

At the ripe, old age of 3,500, you might wonder what could possibly be new about matzo. You’d be surprised.

Staying current is a bit of a mixed bag.
Matzoh has a big head start since it naturally boasts so many of today’s culinary buzzwords: it’s vegan and sodium-free with no saturated fat, trans fat, or cholesterol. It’s got the artisan thing going on, with much of it made by hand in wood- and coal-fired clay ovens. And it’s the ultimate farm-to-table dish—the good stuff, the shmura matzoh, is watched every minute from the harvest through the baking to ensure that the grains never come into contact with any moisture that could lead to accidental leavening.

But truth be told, matzoh is not the most versatile of foods.
There’s not much room for tinkering with a centuries-old recipe that’s dictated by Talmudic law. Judaism takes its bread rules very seriously, and the specificity and complexity of kosher matzoh-making puts even a Thomas Keller recipe to shame. Still, a few hardy Jewish souls (yes, you have to be Jewish) persevere so that new matzoh treats can make their way to the Passover table.

everythingmatzo

 

Remember when a slab of Egg ‘n Onion was exotic?  This year you can buy your Manichewitz in varieties like Mediterranean (flavored with olive oil and rosemary) and Organic Spelt.

 

yehudaglutenfree

 

Note the labeling: matzo-syle squares. They’re not fooling anyone. It seems that if it’s gluten-free it’s only kinda-sorta matzoh. It’s kosher; even kosher for Passover; just not quite kosher enough for the seder. Sorry, celiac sufferers.

vermatzah

 

Vermont’s Naga Bakehouse is doing brisk online business with Vermatzah, its handmade, small-batch matzoh. Naga labels it as ‘eco-kosher’ for its embodiment of what it calls ‘ the deep well-springs of Jewish wisdom.’ Since it’s made without rabbinical supervision, Passover purists just call it traif .

 

Foodmans_Matzolah_granola

 

The usual oats were swapped out for Streit’s matzoh to create Matzolah, the kosher-for-Passover granola. Named as the best new Passover product at Kosherfest 2013, Matzolah’s creator likes to call it “the Trail Mix of the Exodus.”

 

matzohice cream

We’ve heard the rumors out of Israel about Ben & Jerry’s Jewish holiday-themed ice creams. There was even a jokey thread circulating a while back listing flavors like Moishemallow, Wailing Walnut, and Bernard Malamint. Now we have our own with Chozen’s Coconut Macaroon and Matzoh Crunch.

Chocolate_Matzoh__26448_zoom

 

Chocolate-covered matzohs are nothing new, but Coco Délice hits all the right contemporary notes with their version. It’s coated in high-end, high cocoa-count Belgian dark chocolate studded with cocoa nibs and the requisite sea salt.

chug_sameach_mugs-p168563961527638795enyt4_400

 

You won’t see Ambacht Brewery’s Matzobraü until this summer, but beer’s not kosher for Passover anyway (it’s undone by the fermented grains). At holiday’s end, the Oregon brewer will collect donations of leftover matzoh to use in the mash that forms the base of Matzobraü, a golden ale with the unmistakable toasty notes of the bread of affliction.

This year’s seders begin at sundown on Monday, March 25th.
Happy Passover to all (with a special Chag Sameach shout-out to Barack Obama who will be keeping kosher for Passover 2013).

Posted in food trends, holidays, Passover | Leave a comment

Good Luck Foods for the Bad Luck Year

crossed-fingers

 

We all have our little fears and phobias.
We might cringe at spiders, run from clowns, or break into a cold sweat when an airplane takes off. But none are as timeless, universal, and even institutionalized (when’s the last time you stayed on the 13th floor of a hotel?) as the fear of the number 13.

2013 is bringing it out in all of us.
Couples are planning to delay weddings and children for 12 months. Car dealers anticipate a huge drop in demand for the new model year. In Ireland, where the last two digits of the year are always shown on car license plates, the system is being modified for 2013. Four-leaf clovers, gold coins, and a Buddha statue are being installed in Times Square to reassure New Years Eve revellers when the ball drops at midnight.

This seems like a good time to try some of the good luck foods from New Year’s traditions around the world. Superstitious or not, it can’t hurt

  • Beans, peas, and lentils
    These are symbolic of prosperity in many cultures because they’re thought to resemble coins when they’ve been cooked. Legumes are often paired with pork, which has its own lucky associations, so the combination makes for a most propitious meal. Italians eat sausages and green lentils just after midnight. Germans usually eat their New Years legumes in lentil or split pea soup with sausage. Hoppin’ John, a dish of black-eyed peas cooked with ham, is a tradition in the American south.
  • Noodles
    Long noodles like are eaten as a symbol of a long life.
  • Round or ring-shaped foods
    These represent a year coming full circle. Mexicans eat the ring-shaped rosca de reyes cake, the Dutch eat the donut-like ollie bollen, and in Greece, families bake a lucky coin into the round vassilopita cake.
  • Fish
    Fish makes frequent appearances on New Years tables. There’s herring at midnight in Poland, boiled cod in Denmark, and the Germans not only feast on carp, they also put fish scales in their wallets for a successful new year. In Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for a good harvest.
  • Grapes
    In Spain it’s traditional to eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for each month of the coming year. The taste— sweet or sour— gives a clue to the character of each of the coming months. Spanish state television broadcasts the New Years chimes and nearly 4 million pounds of grapes (in little 12 grape packets) are sold in the last week of the year.

What Not to Eat

Lobster and crab: these are poor choices for a new years meal because they scuttle sideways and backwards which can lead to setbacks, regrets, and dwelling on the past.

Chicken: you don’t want your good luck to fly away.

White foods: the Chinese avoid eggs, cheese, and tofu, because white is the color of death.

And never clean your plate.
A little leftover food will usher in a year of plenty and guarantee a stocked pantry.

 

Posted in diversions, holidays, New Years | 6 Comments

Christmas Eve: When the Chosen People Choose Hot and Sour Soup

chineseopensign

This year is 5773 according to the Jewish calendar, but Chinese history only dates back to 4707.
It makes you wonder what the Jews were eating for that first thousand years.

The streets are empty, the storefronts are shuttered, and everyone else they know is in church or sitting down to a holiday meal.
Chinese food for Christmas makes perfect sense.

Jews have a well-known affinity for Chinese food. While it’s impossible to pinpoint the moment when the first Jewish immigrant put down his borscht and picked up an egg roll, in the early 20th century, the tradition fanned out from its Lower East Side New York beginnings and took hold in urban immigrant enclaves around the country. Chinatowns sprouted everywhere the Jews went— Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto; Chinese restaurants were always close by, inexpensive, and stayed open on Sundays and holidays.

But is it kosher?
A lot of Jews grew up with the notion of Chinese food as ‘safe traif.’ Sure, there’s pork and shellfish in there, but it’s hidden in a tangle of wonton wrappers and mu shu vegetables. Don’t look too deeply—at the plate or into your secular Jewish heart— and it’s easy to ignore. And since nearly all Chinese food is dairy-free, there’s a free pass on the prohibition against mixing milk and meat .

The love goes both ways.
Yes, there are Chinese people who like Jewish food, but they complain that they’re hungry again in two weeks.

 

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The 5 Worst Food Gifts This Holiday Season

Remember when fruitcake used to be the worst food gift for holiday giving?
Not any more.
These 5 gifts make a lump of coal look good.

 

Hot Can’s Christmas dinner in a can is a festive meal that eliminates the hassle of cooking. It’s a turkey casserole with all the trimmings conveniently packed in a self-heating can—no potatoes to peel or gravy to stir, you don’t even need a microwave oven. When December 25th arrives, simply take off the rubber cap, pierce the outer jacket with the included key, open the can, and wait 12 minutes for the meal to heat up. Once holiday season has passed, you can hit up the Hot Can website for some Beanz and Balls.

 

Did you think the fragrance world hit bottom with Brad Pitt’s misguided Chanel campaign? Think again. You can smell like a delivery boy courtesy of Pizza Hut Perfume, found on Pizza Hut’s Facebook page. The company press release touts the olfactory delights of oregano and greasy cardboard boxes with “top notes of freshly baked, hand-tossed dough.”

 

 

It’s the horrifying realism that lands the bacon scarf on the list. Extra points for dubbing it Fou-lard, a play on the French words for crazy (fou), bacon (lard) and scarf (foulard). The trompe l’oeil of silk crepe de chine will have you reaching for the lettuce and tomato.

 

If you’re loving the chicken and waffles trend, you know the combination is all about the delicate balance of contrasting flavors and textures—crunchy, juicy, spicy, crispy, fluffy, sweet, and salty, plus a hit of sticky maple. Take away the textures, as Torani has done with its Chicken ‘n Waffles Syrup, and you’re left with a hot mess of sweet, meat, and grease. If you’re not a fan, you already know.

 

The Cooler Fun Wine Rack (get it?) brings nursing bra convenience to holiday imbibing. Just the thing for the flat-chested party girl on your list, the innovative drink-dispensing bra has a secret polyurathane bladder flask that holds 750ml of a favorite beverage. The attached tube allows the young lady to dispense into cups or discreetly drink directly from the straw-like end. Her bust is inflated two full cup sizes when filled, and while she’ll look less remarkable by the end of the evening, after 750 ml (1½ pints) who’s going to care?

 

 

And the also rans:


Frito-Lay’s new line of caffeinated Cracker Jacks. No prize inside?!

 

The Fifty Shades of Chicken Cookbook. Who can be bothered with all that trussing?

 

 

 

 

The Vino2Go Sippy Wine Cup. Cause I’m just not that classy.

 

  

The Mr. Gugu and Miss Go Hamburger Sweater. I think it speaks for itself.

Posted in Christmas, diversions, funny | 1 Comment

Eggnog and Other Raw Egg Cocktails

image via Editer

 

Do you gag at the thought of downing a raw egg?
Salmonella scares and Rocky movies have given them a bad name, but there’s a world of raw egg cocktails out there, and one of them, eggnog, has come into its season.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of a well-crafted Pisco Sour or a true eggnog you probably wonder why anyone would bother adding uncooked goo to perfectly good liquor. I’ll tell you why.

Egg whites transform a humdrum cocktail into a frothy showstopper. A brisk workout in a cocktail shaker creates volume, silkiness, and a beautiful foam topping. It’s like a soufflé in a glass. And while egg whites alone are relatively flavorless, shaken together with the other ingredients the egg whites act as an emulsifier melding the separate components into a whole drink that is truly more than the sum of its parts.

While egg whites add a certain je ne sais quoi to cocktails, all texture without discernible taste, whole eggs or egg yolks announce themselves with a vividly eggy flavor. Whole egg cocktails are less soufflé, more flan. They’re rich and dense, creamy even when there’s no added cream. These are not warm weather refreshers, but they taste just right on a cold winter night.

The rumors of their health risks have been greatly exaggerated.
Salmonella is a truly nasty bacterium, but it’s a lot less common than you probably think. The FDA estimates that only 1 of every 20,000 eggs contains the bacteria, so the odds are 99.995% that your eggnog is safe. At this rate a typical egg eater will run into a contaminated egg once every 84 years. Of course some people can’t take a chance even with those odds. Children, the elderly, pregnant and nursing women, and anyone with a weak immune system should look for egg cocktails made with egg substitutes or liquid egg products which are required by law to be pasteurized. And no, the alcohol in cocktails is not going to kill Salmonella.

Now’s the time to try a raw egg drink.
Trendy cocktail revivalists have fervently embraced the raw egg cocktail in both old-timey drinks and new mixologist concoctions. And from now through New Years Day you’ll probably come across some eggnog somewhere.

Chow has a nice round-up of old and new raw egg cocktail recipes, including their unspeakably decadent and boozy eggnog.

Who’d have thought—I came across not one but two blogs dedicated to eggnog: the photos and recipes Eggnog Blogand the all-things-eggnog Eggnogaholic with eggnog-themed cartoons, shopping, jokes, and poetry.

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, Christmas, food safety | Leave a comment

Kids, Don’t Try This at Home: Heston’s Christmas

Heston Blumenthal celebrates Christmas 2009 with a meal of dormouse via BBC2

 

Famously experimental, endlessly inventive, internationally celebrated chef Heston Blumenthal is a man in love with Christmas.

For the uninitiated, much of Blumenthal’s infamy comes from his fondness for bizarre ingredients, unusual mixing of flavors, and outlandish presentations. Signature dishes at his London restaurant Fat Duck include snail porridge and sardine-on-toast sorbet. His sweet and savory bacon-and-egg ice cream is credited with setting off America’s bacon craze.

Blumenthal endorses the notion of dining as an immersive, multi-sensory experience. He’s papered his dining room with rolls of lickable wallpaper tasting of tomato soup and shrimp cocktail, and sets the table with oak moss on a bed of dry ice to waft a woodsy aroma in anticipation of earthy dishes like truffle toast and foie gras. A seafood-themed dinner included five kinds of edible seaweed, trout-flavored candy, brewed-shrimp beer, and a table side iPod playing the sounds of crashing waves and distant seagulls.

And then there’s Christmas.
He’s traveled to the Middle East in the footsteps of the three wise men to cook with gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and to Siberia to milk a reindeer for holiday ice cream; he’s  filled a town plaza with a six foot high flaming plum pudding; but until this year he’s never served Christmas dinner at Fat Duck. Blumenthal is kicking off the new tradition with plenty of his trademark sensory magic.

The centerpiece of the meal is going to be an edible Christmas tree festooned with lollipops of salmon, salad, and mulled wine and draped with edible tinsel crafted from jellied turkey. Edible ornaments will crack open to reveal contents like prawns and pig’s head terrine, and drifting snow will taste of Roquefort cheese. Something Blumenthal won’t be including are his infamous white chocolate-dipped dormouse lollipops that received a sensational public drubbing during a 2009 nationally-televised Christmas special.

If all this sounds like so much flash and gimmickry, remember that Blumenthal is considered one of the world’s greatest living chefs and his restaurant has been consistently awarded three Michelin stars. The Queen has bestowed him with the Order of the British Empire and his own coat of arms, and he’s been recognized for his contributions to the science of gastronomy with numerous honorary degrees. He’s playful, but his cooking is mighty serious.

Alas, no leftover turkey for sandwiches the next day.

 

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Gingerbread Houses 2012

image via Petit Plat

 

What’s up with gingerbread houses in 2012? Plenty, it seems.
Gingerbread houses have gone green and sustainable, mid-century modern, and gluten-free. They’re big enough to walk through and small enough to dangle on the rim of a mug of cocoa. And we’ve finally had enough of gingerbread houses made of cupcakes.

Here’s a sampling of what’s online this holiday season:

Learn how to make a gingerbread house with a YouTube cooking lesson.

Visit our nation’s official gingerbread White House during the month of December at ObamaFoodorama.

View a time-lapse video of the construction of a life-sized gingerbread house (that’s 600 pounds of powdered sugar you’re watching!).

Peruse the gingerbread house picture gallery or upload a photo of your own creation at the Pinterest board for Gingerbread House Heaven.

Enter a gingerbread house-building contest. A national competition is held annually in Asheville, NC, but there are plenty of local events for both amateur and professional bakers.

Order a gingerbread replica of your home from custom baker Rebecca Russell.

Disneyland always pulls out the stops for its life-size gingerbread house at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. This year’s house is based on the Haunted Mansion from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and features a special-effects laden see-through ghost train that travels around the base of the house while ghosts chase a gingerbread man on a push car.

Choose between an A-frame, a Colonial, or a Saltbox with gingerbread house blueprints from BobVila.com.

Shop for kits, pans, and decorating tools at the Wilton Christmas Gingerbread Shop.

Play the online Home Sweet Home and decorate a virtual gingerbread house.

And yes, there’s an app for that.
Download Gingerbread House Maker for Android and Apple gadgets.

 

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Everyone in America Eats the Exact Same Turkey

image via Gerry Broome/AP

 

I don’t need to tell you.
By now, we’re all pretty well acquainted with the miserable conditions and often inhumane treatment that produce the bulked-up shrink-wrapped birds found in supermarket cases. But did you know that they’re basically all the same turkey?

A year’s production: 275,000,000 broad-breasted whites and only 30,000 heritage birds.
Virtually every turkey raised in the U.S. comes from a single genetic line. Even most free-range farmed turkeys have been raised from poults purchased from large-scale breeders working from that line. The broad-breasted white is a genetically-engineered hybrid developed in the 1970′s; ‘broad-breasted’ because breast meat sells; ‘white’ because the little feathers missed in plucking won’t show.

The broad-breasted white was engineered to convert the minimum amount of feed into the maximum amount of white breast meat in the shortest possible amount of time. And what a triumph it is! A factory-farmed turkey is ready for market in as little as twelve weeks (versus around 30 weeks for heritage breeds) and about 70% of its weight is breast.

A lot of turkey parts have to fall by the wayside to get that much breast meat.
Mass market turkeys have scrawny legs and tiny little skeletons. Their body cavities are so small that their organs are too crowded to reach full functionality. They are too frail and front-heavy to walk, roost, fly, or mate. There’s little chance of any muscle development, which is all the better to support the singular goal of breast production.

The broad-breasted white turkey is not a robust bird.
Their oversized breasts constrict their lungs so that they are constantly starved for oxygen. They develop the cardiovascular diseases that seem to find the overweight and sedentary members of every species. Even if they’re not headed to slaughter, the ‘natural’ life-span of these turkeys is only a year or two, versus the eight to twelve year life expectancy of heritage breeds.

There’s nothing robust about their flavor either. All that white meat is flabby; the protein level is low, the taste is mild, and the texture is soft. Gaminess and chew have been bred out, and while broad-breasted whites are higher in fat than other breeds, there’s none of the richness.

A naturally raised, free range broad-breasted white turkey can be a vast improvement over a factory farmed specimen. It has a foraged diet and develops muscle mass that contribute to superior flavor. But for a turkey that tastes like a turkey should taste, you’ll have to seek out a heritage breed. ‘Heritage’ is not a federally-regulated term, and it’s an over-used marketing buzzword, but a true heritage turkey is one of the ten specific breeds that were raised in the U.S. prior to the 1950′s when the poultry industry began to genetically engineer turkeys on the way to developing the broad-breasted white.

Don’t eat a Thanksgiving turkey that tastes like every turkey in America.
You can order a heritage breed turkey online at Heritage Foods USA and D’Artagnan. On the east coast, Mary’s Turkeys can direct you to local markets that carry their birds. Local Harvest and the The US Ark of Taste at Slow Food USA both maintain national directories of heritage turkey farms, markets, and breeders.

 

 

Posted in food knowledge, holidays, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

Rolling Out the Tax Day Freebies

Is there any better flavor than the taste of free?

Everyone loves a bargain, but free is a whole other animal. Zero is not just another price. It’s an emotional hot button— push it, and we are irrationally, deliriously happy.

In what’s become an annual but odd rite of spring, Tax Day has become synonymous with free and discounted food. So many national chains are hosting tax relief specials that you can practically eat all day without ever cracking open your wallet.

Here’s this year’s list:

Just remember, if you manage to collect more than $600 in free food, it can be taxed as income.

Posted in holidays, restaurants | Leave a comment
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