Dec 4, 2015

Happy National Cookie Day today, December 4, 2015

The English word "cookie" is derived from the Dutch word "koekje," which means little cake. Dutch bakers used to test oven temperatures with small amounts of batter so that they would not waste the entire cake mix if the temperature was not right. Soon, they discovered these tiny pieces of cooked batter were actually quite tasty.

Happy Hanukkah

Hanukkah 2015 begins at sunset on Sunday, December 6, and ends on Monday, December 14.

Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights. It commemorates the victory of the ancient Israelites over the Syrian Greek army, and the subsequent miracle of restoring the menorah in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The miracle of Hanukkah is that only one vial of oil was found with just enough oil for one day, and yet it lasted for eight full days.

Some celebrate Hanukkah at home by lighting the menorah (candelabrum with nine branches) each night, light one additional candle to the number from the previous night, playing dreidel (spinning top), and eating special foods unique to Hanukkah. Some people also sing Hanukkah songs or exchange gifts after lighting the menorah.

Many Hanukkah foods are deep-fried in oil, symbolizing the oil from the menorah used in the Temple. These include latkes, or potato pancakes, and jelly doughnuts. Many also make the Sephardic delicacy bimuelos (deep fried dough balls) and use applesauce as a topping.
If anything is deep fried, it must be good .

Did You Know

December is the month with the shortest daylight hours of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the longest daylight hours of the year in the Southern Hemisphere. December starts on the same day of the week as September.

Apple Brandy vs. Calvados

Fall is the time when apple harvesting is at its peak. Along with that comes fresh apple cider (and usually fresh warm doughnuts). Apple cider is a drink made from crushed apples, and sometimes fermented (hard cider).

randy is distilled from fruit, but if it is made from anything other than grapes, it is specified so, like apple brandy. US guidelines say this drink must be made from at least twenty percent apple brandy that has been stored in oak for no less than two years. To create a lighter profile, apple brandy is blended with a neutral spirit.

Like tequila and champagne, the French have Calvados, a legally protected appellation, which means that it must come from a specific geographic location, this is the Lower Normandy region of France. It also must be aged in oak casks for at least two years. Calvados tends to taste 'oakier' and slightly less apple than its American counterpart.

Dust to Dust

Several companies offer environmentally friendly coffins. Some are biodegradable and made from recycled paper or bamboo. I wonder what kind of sinkholes this might cause when the practice becomes widespread.

Grocery Store Tricks

If meat is packaged under the watch of federal inspectors, supermarkets cannot change the date on the package, but if retailers butchered and packaged the meat themselves, they can change the label any time they choose. In fact, 30 states do not regulate the expiration dates for most items.

Some stores use special lighting to make bananas look more appealing. They filter an ambient light to highlight the bananas so they appear more yellow. Water sprayed on produce makes veggies look fresh, but keeping them wet actually makes them rot faster. It also makes produce heavier and therefore pricier.

Salty Fact

Morton Salt is the US leader in salt sales. Initially, salt was sold in bags, then boxes. There was a problem with the salt clumping, because of moisture. Morton discovered that adding magnesium carbonate to absorb moisture solved that problem, but, salt tended to get stuck in the corner of boxes, so the company came up with a round container. It costs more and that cost gets passed on to the consumer. All other salt companies have copied the round shape to sell salt. Morton sells salt in bulk, in other kinds of containers to institutions.

Egg Terms

There are many terms grocers use to sell us eggs and many of them do not mean much. The one that most strikes me is 'vegetarian diet'. Since chickens are omnivores, feeding them a vegetarian diet is unnatural.

  • Farm fresh: Means nothing and is only used to make the eggs sound more appealing.
  • No hormones: Means nothing and is completely misleading, because it is illegal to give poultry hormones.
  • Free-range: Means the hens are cage-free, but only have "access to the outdoors." Usually a small screened off patio or enclosure.
  • Pasture raised: Pasture-raised birds spend most of their life outdoors, with a fair amount of space, plus access to a barn. Many are able to eat a diet of worms, insects, and grass, etc.
  • Cage Free: The hens do not live in cages. They usually live in aviaries: massive industrial barns that house thousands of birds. Each bird has, on average, 1 square foot of space.
  • All Natural: This phrase has no real meaning, because [conventional chickens] are raised in the least natural conditions.
  • No Antibiotics:  Antibiotics are rarely used in the egg industry.  However, chickens  raised for their meat do commonly get antibiotics to fend off disease and increase animal growth.
  • Vegetarian Diet: Chickens are not vegetarian. They are omnivores and in the wild, get most of their protein from worms, grasshoppers and other insects. Hens that are fed a "vegetarian diet" are probably eating corn fortified with amino acids.
  • Omega-3:  Hens are likely given a bit of flaxseed mixed in with their corn feed. This could possibly lead to higher levels of omega-3 in their eggs.
  • Organic: This means something more specific, and egg producers who use it are subject to USDA regulation. Organic eggs must come from hens that are free-range, fed organic feed (no synthetic pesticides), and receive no hormones or antibiotics (most do not get these anyway).

Free College Living

Humanitas is one of the Netherlands’ main social services organizations. It provides support to people who are temporarily unable to manage on their own, and one of its major areas of focus is elder care.

Social isolation and loneliness is a chronic problem for the elderly, but a Humanitas nursing home has come up with a unique solution. The home offers free housing to local students if the students agree to spend a minimum of 30 hours per month interacting with the 160 elderly residents. The time can be spent doing anything from helping with meal preparation, shopping trips, teaching seniors to use computers, playing games, or just sitting and talking. The students might also learn a thing or two in the process.