Tag Archives: holiday

Prohibited Pleasures

Did you find any contraband in your Christmas stocking?

Between the Department of Agriculture, The Food and Drug Administration, and the  Customs and Treasury departments, there’s a slew of delicacies that have been banned in various locales. But if your gift exchange is shady enough, you might have scored this holiday season.

Contrary to popular belief, absinthe is legal in the United States. The FDA strictly limits the level of thujone, a toxic substance found in wormwood, one of the spirit’s ingredients. Thujone has long been rumored to cause hallucinations in absinthe drinkers, although this has never been confirmed. The legal version is highly alcoholic (up to 74%) and is usually diluted before drinking.

Since 2005, caviar connoisseurs have been forced to make do without the eggs of the wild beluga sturgeon. Until the dwindling numbers of this species can be revived, caviar lovers have to satisfy themselves with the roe of salmon, trout, and other more plentiful fish. Strictly speaking, these substitutes are not true caviar.

The dried root bark of the sassafras tree has been used for tea, as a fragrance for soap, a painkiller, an insect repellent, and­ a seasoning and thickener for many Creole soups and stews. It’s best known for contributing the characteristic flavor to root beer, although few can remember the taste of true sassafras root beer. A potential carcinogen, its use has been banned for 50 years.

Foie Gras
Celebrated for its luxurious taste and texture; excoriated for the cruelty of force-feeding geese and ducks to enlarge their livers before slaughter. It’s hard to stay neutral on the subject of foie gras. Chicago banned the retail sale of this delicacy in 2006, imposing fines of up to $500 per violations. Since eating foie gras remained legal, restaurateurs skirted the ban by serving the dish under the guise of other menu items, claiming that they were giving away the livers with the purchase of the other dishes. The ineffectual ban was lifted in 2008. California is gearing up to implement its own foie gras ban this year.

Raw Milk/Raw Milk Cheeses
Raw milk proponents tout the superior flavor and nutrition of milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. Government agencies worry that bacteria present in unpasteurized milk poses a health threat. Raw milk can not be legally sold in about two dozen states, and is limited to direct farm sales in a few others. A few enterprising farmers satisfy raw milk demand by selling ‘herd shares’– customers purchase a share in a cow that entitles them to a portion of its milk.

Throughout the US, unpasteurized cheeses can only be legally sold when they have been aged at least 60 days– the period deemed necessary to kill off potentially harmful bacteria in raw dairy products. True cheese connoisseurs feel that we are missing out on the distinct and extraordinary pleasures of young cheeses, such as those found in European countries where the requirement is a 30-day waiting period.

Here are some resources to help you locate and legally transport some of these forbidden foods:

Keep up with the latest legislation with the Food Law Blog.

Think twice before packing that prosciutto– failure to declare food products at border crossings can result in fines as high as $10,000. Consult the US Customs website to learn what you can lawfully transport.

Read The Devil’s Picnic: Around the World in Pursuit of Forbidden Fruit (available through Amazon.com) for a chef’s tour of prohibited pleasures.


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Make Plans, Not Resolutions

[image via TheResurgance.com]

New Years resolutions are a sucker’s bet.
We all know it. Even so, there’s something about the next year’s calendar with all its small, clean squares so full of potential.
Resist the urge.
Make plans, not resolutions. Lay foundations instead of boundaries.

DON’T resolve to eat out less often. INSTEAD get your house in good cooking order.
Keep a well stocked pantry, have your knives professionally sharpened, buy lots and lots of condiments, play with your forgotten utensils and appliances (have you ever used the sausage attachment that came with your food processor?).

DON’T resolve to limit your fats. INSTEAD plan to savor every bite.
Experiment with nut oils and buy different grades of olive oil— use the good stuff when it counts. Eat really fresh butter from grass-fed cows. Same for cheese. And ice cream.

DON’T give up meat. INSTEAD plan to broaden your culinary horizens.
Beans, nuts, grains, and even green vegetables contain protein. Did you know that there are 40,000 different varieties of rice? That should keep you busy for a while.

DON’T give up refined foods. INSTEAD plan to make informed decisions.
Know your food—where it’s from and what’s been done to it.

If you must make a New Years resolution, make it this one:
This year, I resolve to enjoy my relationship with food.
Make 2012 a celebration, not a challenge.


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Good Luck/Bad Luck Foods for the New Year


If Friday the 13th is unlucky, then 2012 should be a real doozy.
We have 3 of them coming up on next year’s calendar. That’s the greatest number that can possibly fall within 12 months.

This seems like a good time to try some of the good luck foods from New Year’s traditions around the world.

  • Beans, peas, and lentils
    They 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
    Lobster is considered a poor choice for a new years meal because lobsters move backwards and could 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.



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An Endless Fascination with the Turducken

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 even 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), the quaducant (quail, duck, and pheasant), and extreme stunts like the turgooponducheasnishuaichuffguihagaga, an unpronounceable and probably inedible beast that marries poultry-stuffed-poultry with beef, pork, lamb, and frog. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the hotchken; known as ‘the poor man’s turducken,’ it consists of a humble chicken stuffed with hotdogs.
[For the record, the largest documented nested bird roast is the rôti sans pareil, or ‘roast without equal‘: 17 successively stuffed birds, from the massive bustard to the tiny garden warbler; the final bird so small that it’s stuffed with just a single olive].

We’ve seen the turducken effect spill over its poultry borders. A cookie is baked inside of a cookie to create the chocoOreochip, a.k.a. the turducken of cookies, and a cream cheese-frosted behemoth known as the cherpumple (cherry, pumpkin and apple pies each baked inside its own tier of a three-layer cake) lays claim to the title of the turducken of desserts.

Then there’s the Twitter hashtag #LiteraryTurducken. In the spirit of the poultry portmanteau, #LiteraryTurducken tweets take a classic book title and stuff two more inside. The days leading up to Thanksgiving saw thousands of clever hybrids like “Go, Dog, Go Tell it on the Brokeback Mountain,” “Barbarians at the Gate of My Little House on the Prairie,” and “The Awkward Age of Innocents Abroad.”

Like Russian nesting dolls rendered in pimply poultry flesh

The mighty Cherpumple



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A Guide to the Foodie Holiday Gift Guides

image via 7DTV

Holiday gift guides are supposed to make life a little easier at this time of year.
In theory, they are carefully curated, well-targeted selections that keep us from slogging through too many websites to come up with the perfect gift. But with so many gift guides out there, now we find ourselves slogging through them.
That’s why Gigabiting has done the slogging for you, to come up with a carefully curated, well-targeted selection of holiday gift guides for all the food lovers on your list.

Hit the ground running this holiday shopping season.
The Wall Street Journal has A Foodie’s Guide to Cyber Monday 2011.

They like kitchen hacks and the science behind the cooking.
Shop for the innovative cook at Seattle Weekly’s Food Geek Gift Guide: 2011.

Let them show their love with wearable food gifts.
The Huffington Post has 12 T-Shirts and Totes for Food Lovers.

They’re cool and they cook; for them, you can pick up a set of knives reflecting the specialized techniques of 20 ethnic cuisines, or a honey dipper inspired by the geometry of the beehive.
It’s Gifts for Your Foodie Friend from the Cool Hunting Holiday Gift Guide.

The cheeseboard is from reclaimed slate, and the espresso machine is hand-cranked.
It’s the Green Gift Guide for foodies from Treehugger.

Turn soybeans into soymilk and fruit juice into boozy hooch.
There are all kinds of gifts for all kinds of DIYers from Kitchen Daily’s 10 Make-Your-Own Food Kits.

They’re obsessed with swan-necked pour over kettles and debate the virtues of wet-processed beans.
Please the coffee lovers in your life with a selection from Dear Coffee, I Love You’s Coffee Lover Gift Guide 2011.

Have any food bloggers on your list? We need some love at holiday time just like anybody else.
My Kitchen Addiction mixes the professional, the practical, and the personal in the Food Blogger Gift Guide.

Here’s a gift that’s one-size-fits-all:
Give a gift to end hunger from the Feeding America Gift Catalog.
$12 buys a child’s breakfast for 3 months; for $90 you can provide 6 months’ worth of dinners for a family of 4.





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Holiday Weight Gain: First the good news…

How about the good news first…
Reports of holiday weight gain have been greatly exaggerated. The perception is that we really pack on the pounds at holiday time. The reality (according to the National Institutes of Health) is a typical weight gain of between 0.4 and 1.8 pounds— just about one pound on average. Despite six weeks of free-flowing eggnog from Thanksgiving through New Years, the typical weight gain is surprisingly small— except for the already-overweight who tend to keep growing during the holidays.

And the bad news…
It may be a mere pound, but the weight adds up.
Most people don’t ever lose that extra holiday pound.

Our weight is on an upward creep through the adult years. On the march toward the middle-age spread, and the health complications that accompany it like diabetes and heart disease, we tend to accumulate about 2 pounds each year. About half of that can be traced to seasonal overindulgence.

A January menu of cottage cheese and rice cakes.
40% of all New Years resolutions relate to diet and weight loss. We take alcohol and red meat off the menu and sign up for gym memberships. Unfortunately, research shows that our resolve is not so strong: six out of ten will fall off the wagon by January 6th.

There are unexpected side effects to holiday weight gain.
You’re not the only one affected. Read: Pet Parade: Holiday weight gain affects pets too.
And then there’s that special someone. Last year, BeautifulPeople.com, apparently a dating site for the thin and superficial, canceled more than 5,000 memberships on the basis of profile photos showing evidence of holiday overindulgence. In the words of the site’s founder, Robert Hintze, “Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which BeautifulPeople.com was founded.” You can read about it in Dating Site for Beautiful People Expels “Fatties” Over Holiday Weight Gain.

Feel free to make a New Years resolution to send nasty email messages to Mr. Hintze.



Posted in health + diet, Thanksgiving | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Modernist Thanksgiving, Anyone?

Modernist cuisine is one of the glories of the 21st Century.
By borrowing from the laboratory, pioneering chefs have blown through the established boundaries of cooking, upending centuries of culinary tradition. They’ve refined and deepened our understanding of techniques and ingredients, astounding us with new and intensified flavors and textures. But can we please keep it out of the kitchen on Thanksgiving?

You don’t want to mess with Thanksgiving.
It’s our most traditional and food-centric holiday. For most families, the food traditions are inviolable—swap out the creamed onions for butternut squash and you’ll never hear the end of it from someone claiming to wait all year for those damned onions.

Call me old-fashioned, but I want my gravy thickened with roux rather than hydrocolloids, and please hold the alginate spherification when you cook my cranberries. This is not a day when my senses should be stunned.

Trading cast iron pans for the rotor-stator homogenizer
The modernist Thanksgiving kitchen is a sterile, precise environment. Cooking is reduced to the often soundless, odorless elements of physics and chemistry. Vacuum-sealed bags of deconstructed turkey swim silently in their sous-vide bath, and the beep of a digital touch pad signals the centrifuge cycle of the sweet potatoes. You’re not just hands-off;  you’re in protective gear.

Gone is the cacophony of rattling pans, the sizzle of fat, and the tangle of smells that fill the house. Gone too is the romance of cooking—the creative imprecision of a dash of this and a splash of that; the blast of heat when you open the oven door to baste the turkey; the hand-cramping satisfaction of mashing an enormous pot of potatoes into submission.

On November 25th, let’s put away the autoclaves and cryo-guns, and bring on the tradition.

Read about the ground-breaking text Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, in Gigabiting’s The Biggest, Greatest, Most Revolutionary Cookbook Ever. No kidding.



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The 5 W’s of Food Day

The Who
It might be easier to list the who isn’t.
Food Day was created by the consumer-advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Food Day’s advisory board is stacked with city mayors and university heads, Senators and members of Congress, two former Surgeons General, chefs, scientists, public health leaders, and many of the most prominent voices for change in the food policy world (Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Jim Hightower, and many more).
Food Day’s hundreds of partner organizations run the gamut from the Sierra Club to the Episcopal Church, and corporate partners include Whole Foods, Dole, and The Cooking Channel.

The What
It’s a day dedicated to raising awareness and raising funds to promote healthy eating and affordable, sustainable foods.
Food Day is based on Earth Day in that any individual or group, formal or informal, can plan an event. There are thousands scheduled, including policy campaign kick-offs, food festivals, cooking lessons, farm tours, film screenings, school curricula, protests, and themed dinners in restaurants, private homes, and public spaces.

The When
Food Day is Monday, October 24.
We’re in the home stretch.

The Where
Food Day events large and small are being planned all around the country.
There will be high-profile gatherings like the massive, celebrity-packed Eat Real Eat-In being held in New York’s Times Square, and others as low key as a home cook’s pie-making class being held in a Brookline kitchen.
Visit the Food Day website to find events near you, or consider hosting your own Food Day dinner with help from Epicurious’ Food Day event planning kit.

Because it’s time to fix our broken food system.



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Where’s the Edible Emblem for Gay Pride Week?

It’s Gay Pride Week, so where are the special holiday delicacies?
This is a celebration in need of a dish– an edible emblem, a culinary signature.

The dish needs to be festive, sure, but it also should bind together the generations in their observance. It should feel as if the spirit of those that came before are hovering over the holiday table. And if it uses a chiffonade, all the better.

All the great holidays have one.
Thanksgiving has its turkey and St. Patrick’s Day has corned beef and cabbage. Even Passover, a Jewish salute to deprivation mind you, has its matzoh ball soup. How can it be that Gay Pride Week doesn’t have a signature food?

From little boys with Easy Bake Ovens to a love of brunch (carbs! sunglasses indoors!), food culture runs deep in the LGBT community. The reverse is true as well; the community has always been well-represented in the kitchen, filling the gap between mom-cooks and the meat-slapping alpha males at the grill.

There is a contingent backing the cupcake; it’s a tad trendy and obvious, but it does make a certain amount of sense. Cupcakes have buttercream and sprinkles going for them, and cupcakes became a rallying cry for the gay rights struggle when an Indianapolis bakery refused to make rainbow cupcakes for a customer’s National Coming Out Day celebration.

Personally, I would like to see something a little weightier with cultural and historical significance; something that hasn’t been co-opted and over-exposed by the mainstream. Plus, cupcakes are already the domain of third grade classroom birthday celebrations—Gay Pride Week shouldn’t have to share.

There isn’t a definitive dish of Gay Pride Week, but there are still plenty of ways to celebrate.

We are fabulous–therefore we eat out! is the motto of Gay Eats, nationwide listings of gay-owned, gay-friendly, and gay-popular dining, with shout-outs to hunky waiters.

The Daily Hookup, a gay-oriented answer to Groupon,, is a deal site with a carefully curated lineup of bars and restaurants.

Be there for the grand opening this month of The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop (the widely anticipated spinoff of the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck) for treats like the Bea Arthur and the Salty Pimp.

Obama Foodorama lets you follow the food adventures of First Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, the openly gay, Executive Pastry Chef known around the White House as ‘the Crustmaster’.

In honor of Gay Pride Week, Fork in the Road, the food blog of the Village Voice, is temporarily transformed into the Big Gay Food Blog.



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I Know How to Fix Kwanzaa


Another year, another Kwanzaa, another conversation bemoaning its lack of broader acceptance.

Could it be any more obvious?
This is a holiday in need of a dish– an edible emblem, a culinary signature.

All the great holidays have one. […]

Posted in cyberculture, holidays | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Resolutions: Resist the Urge

image via TheResurgance.com


New Years resolutions are a sucker’s bet.
We all know it. Even so, there’s something about the next year’s calendar with all its small, clean squares so full of potential.
Resist the urge.
Make plans, not resolutions. Lay foundations instead of boundaries. […]

Posted in health + diet, New Years | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Holiday Weight Gain: Fact or fiction?

How about the good news first…

Reports of holiday weight gain have been greatly exaggerated. The perception is that we really pack on the pounds at holiday time. The reality (according to the National Institutes of Health) is a typical weight gain of between 0.4 and 1.8 pounds— just about one pound on average. Despite six weeks of free-flowing eggnog from Thanksgiving through New Years, the typical weight gain is surprisingly small— except for the already-overweight who tend to add something like five pounds during the holidays.

And the bad news…

It may be a mere pound, but the weight adds up. […]

Posted in health + diet, holidays | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Christmas Carol/The Christmas Dinner: Holiday cheer takes an inflationary hit.


The cost of holiday feasting is the real Christmas Price Index.

Every year, the economists at PNC bank tally the cost of the items in the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas.
The French hens, the swans, the leaping lords, the pipers and the drummers; they add it all up at current prices for a tongue-in-cheek economic index. […]

Posted in Christmas, diversions | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Better than a Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Pet


For the DIYers on your list
Sprouts on a terra cotta doggie just won’t cut it.

Not these days when people are out there canning home-grown tomatoes and curing their own hams.

A good do-it-yourself project taps into creativity, fosters a sense of engagement with the process, and leads to a real accomplishment.
You’re going to have to do a lot better than a Chia Pet; like with one of these do-it-yourself gift sets: […]

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Talk Turkey to Me


Put down that phone!

The Thanksgiving Talk-Line is so old school.
The real action this Thanksgiving will be on laptops and smart phones. Even the Butterball phone line ladies will be twittering.

Online search volume for cooking tips and recipes starts to build in early November, reaching a fever pitch by the week of Thanksgiving. Last year, in the days leading up to the holiday, 785,000 people searched for turkey recipes on allrecipes.com; by Thanksgiving Day, the site was logging one million page views an hour. The volume is so great that cooking sites build their server capacity around that single day, seldom needing more than 50% during the rest of the year. […]

Posted in food knowledge, holidays | Tagged , | 5 Comments

The 80 Year-Old Twinkie

                      image via Super Healthy Kids


The sounds of Louis Armstrong …a photograph of U.S. troops liberating a concentration camp…Neil Armstrong’s walk on the Moon…the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr…the literary works of William Faulkner…Twinkies…

That’s right, Hostess Twinkies made the cut. On the occasion of the millennium, a twin-pack of the snack cakes was included among the artifacts placed in our nation’s official time capsule. Intended as a record of 20th century cultural, scientific, humanistic, and technological achievements, the items are held at the National Archives and Records Administration where they will represent us to future generations. […]

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We Could All Use a Little Luck in the New Year


If Friday the 13th is unlucky, then 2009 makes a lot more sense. We had 3 of them on this year’s calendar– the greatest number possible in a 12 month cycle– and for too many of us, 2009 was a real doozy. In the coming year we see our one and only Friday the 13th in August.


Posted in holidays | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Gingerbread Houses 2009


What’s up with gingerbread houses in 2009? Plenty, it seems.
Gingerbread houses have gone green and organic, like the 10×14 foot edible estate with LED lights and a green “vegetated” moss roof on display in the Charlotte Ritz-Carlton. They are made of cupcakes, boast chocolate bar solar panels and gumdrop wind turbines, and are mid-century modern design.

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

Posted in food trends, shopping | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment
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