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Food

Food

The act of toasting feels natural: You lift your arms in affirmation and drink in honor of an occasion or a loved one.

It's what millions will do this week as they ring in the New Year, but why? Like shaking hands or saluting, toasting is a habit with incredibly foggy beginnings, so we here at The Salt decided to dig into it, for the sake of science.

If the thought of watching the ball drop in Times Square again is already making you yawn, consider perking your New Year's Eve celebration with this tradition from Spain: As midnight nears on Nochevieja, or "old night," the last day of the year, the entire country gathers in front of television screens or in town squares, clutching a small bowl of green grapes and wearing red underwear. More on the underwear later.

There's nothing like the distinctive "pop" of the uncorking of a bottle of bubbly to create a sense of celebration. Whether it's Dom Perignon or a $10 sparkling wine, bubbles add pizazz.

Sparkling-wine lovers sometimes point to the glittering streams of tiny bubbles as an important attribute. Why? Well, tiny bubbles are a sign of age, explains French chemist Gerard Liger-Belair, author of Uncorked: The Science of Champagne.

One Lunch Lady's Cafeteria Conversion

Dec 28, 2012

Kathy Del Tonto started cooking school food 30 years ago in the Montrose school district at the foot of Colorado's San Juan Mountains. Back then, the cafeteria workers made everything from scratch.

"My first kitchen that I managed was a little country school out south of town, and we made our own ketchup and everything," she says.

It's the holiday season and for some people that means celebrating with friends, family and cocktails. But instead of settling for the standard martini or Manhattan, author and historian Lesley Blume suggests you reach for a taste of bygone cocktail culture.

In Let's Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition, Blume outlines more than 100 lesser-known oldies that are both delicious and delightful. She joins NPR's David Greene to discuss cocktail history and how to make vintage recipes part of a modern-day party.

'The Book Of Gin' Distills A Spirited History

Dec 28, 2012

Unlike a good martini, the story of gin isn't smooth; it's long, complex, sordid and, as Richard Barnett has discovered, it makes for tantalizing material. Barnett's newly published The Book of Gin traces the liquor's life, from its beginnings in alchemy to its current popularity among boutique distillers.

Barnett joins NPR's Renee Montagne to discuss the medicinal origins and changing reputation of gin.


Interview Highlights

On gin's medicinal origins

Veganism has long been thought of as a bland, fringe diet typically associated with hippies or trend-setting Hollywood types. But chef Bryant Terry is trying to chip away at that stereotype.

Got milk? Ancient European farmers who made cheese thousands of years ago certainly had it. But at that time, they lacked a genetic mutation that would have allowed them to digest raw milk's dominant sugar, lactose, after childhood.

Today, however, 35 percent of the global population — mostly people with European ancestry — can digest lactose in adulthood without a hitch.

Father Leo On How To 'Spice Up' Married Life

Dec 26, 2012

Mixing spiritual and culinary nourishment might seem like an odd pairing to some. But it all comes naturally to Father Leo Patalinghug. He's a priest of the archdiocese of Baltimore, and the author of multiple cookbooks. His latest is called "Spicing Up Married Life," where advice about strengthening your marriage sits side by side with recipes for romantic meals.

Because Christmas Day means good cheer and good food for many, All Things Considered asked you to describe what you eat on the holiday — whether you celebrate Christmas or not. You told us about tamales, pickled squid, homemade soup and (of course) Chinese food.

Last Christmas, we told you about tourtières, the savory meat pies Canadians serve around the holidays. Now, we bring you cretons, a Québécois delicacy found throughout Canada and parts of New England this time of year.

Cocktail Chemistry: Parsing The Bloody Mary

Dec 26, 2012

The bloody mary, the signature brunch cocktail, had a friend in Ernest Hemingway.

Infuse The Holidays With Spirits

Dec 26, 2012

While Melkon Khosrovian was wooing his wife, he quickly realized that she wasn't as enamored with the frequent hard-liquor toasts as his extended Armenian family was. "She would just pick up her glass and put it back down," he recalls. So he decided to experiment with flavor combinations that would be more palatable to her, creating infused liquors such as grapefruit-vanilla or (her favorite) pear-lavender vodka — in hopes that he might help her feel more like part of the family in the process.

Now that the Christmas feast is over, you may be looking at all the extra food you made, or the food that you brought home from the store that never even got opened.

And you may be wondering: How long can I keep this? What if it's past its expiration date? Who even comes up with those dates on food, anyway, and what do they mean?

Here's the short answer: Those "sell by" dates are there to protect the reputation of the food. They have very little to do with food safety. If you're worried whether food has started to go bad, just smell it.

It used to be said that only old men drink rye, sitting alone down at the end of the bar, but that's no longer the case as bartenders and patrons set aside the gins and the vodkas and rediscover the pleasures of one of America's old-fashioned favorites.

Whiskey from rye grain was what most distilleries made before Prohibition. Then, after repeal in 1933, bourbon, made from corn, became more popular. Corn was easier to grow, and the taste was sweeter.

Christmas A Busy Season For Tamale-Makers

Dec 24, 2012

For Christmas, Central and Mexican-American families don't crave a holiday turkey; they want a plate of steaming hot tamales.

Gustavo Arellano, author of the book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, says that to him, tamales are more than food. They transmit Latino culture during Christmas.

Milk and cookies might be the traditional Santa offering on Christmas Eve, but in at least one household, St. Nicholas will be getting smoked salmon and scotch.

It's just one out-of-the-ordinary example we gleaned from a call out to fans of NPR's Facebook page. Many of them involved a different sort of Christmas "spirit" — the kind that could push Mr. Claus over the legal limit, at least during the U.S. leg of his annual aerial circumnavigation.

Nothing says "I love you," at least in my Polish-American family, quite like the sharing of a thin, flat, tasteless wafer called an oplatek at Christmas.

We're not alone. Before sitting down to Christmas Eve dinner, many families with roots in Poland and other Eastern European countries will take part in this tradition, which has roots dating back hundreds of years.

The city of Rome may be the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, but as far as bright, glitzy decorations, Christmas there has always been a rather sober affair.

And yet at Christmastime, there's one area where Romans pull out all the stops — the dinner table.

Even with the economic crisis, outdoor markets, grocery shops and fishmongers are crowded with customers.

While the rest of the world was in a tizzy over the Mayan apocalypse that wasn't, the residents of Oaxaca, Mexico, were busy preparing for the very real Coming of the Radish People.

This Sunday, they will descend upon Oaxaca's zocalo, or main plaza: giant root vegetables carved into human figures and other vivid forms.

It's high season for pie-making. And when we came upon this touching story about a bunch of women gathering to bake fresh apple pies for the people of Newtown, Conn., it warmed our hearts here at The Salt. Truly.

Nobody really wants to think about economics, the famously dismal science, while sitting down at a table loaded with love and calories. Like it or not, though, supply and demand drive food production and set the price of dinner.

So, in a season of feasts, what are the business stories on your holiday menu?

Have you noticed, perhaps, that some of your store-bought salad dressings or spaghetti sauces taste a little less salty lately?

Probably not. The companies that make those products are doing their best to keep you from noticing. Yet many of them are, in fact, carrying out a giant salt-reduction experiment, either because they want to improve their customers' health or because they're worried that if they don't, the government might impose regulations that would compel more onerous salt reductions.

This week, our colleagues over at the Shots blog have been talking a lot about malaria. And, here at The Salt, that got us thinking about one thing: gin and tonics.

As you probably know, tonic is simply carbonated water mixed with quinine, a bitter compound that just happens to cure a malaria infection, albeit not so well.

Salt is one of those dangerously tasty substances. We add the magical crystals of sodium chloride to almost everything that we cook or bake, and according to many public health experts, we add too much.

They want us to cut back, to lower our risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Yet when you really start looking for ways to do this, you run into a paradox and a scientific puzzle.

First, the paradox. Too much salt may kill us, but our bodies need some of it to survive.

Want to eat sustainably? Then eat bugs.

That's the word from the Dutch, who are doing their best to make a scientific case for the environmental benefits of insect proteins. Reduce greenhouse gases? Check. Produce more edible protein while using less land than more traditional livestock? Check.

Belgian Sweets Not Just For 'Sinterklaas'

Dec 19, 2012

Though my grandmother Georgette was born in the United States, she is half Belgian (Flemish) and half French. On top of the cabinets in her blue kitchen you'll find a little Dutch village of porcelain houses. Above the sink are miniature figures of the Statue of Liberty, Manneken Pis and the Eiffel Tower — representations of her three nationalities. In her Delft cookie jar you'll find speculaas (also called speculoos) — the Dutch windmill-shaped gingersnap-like cookie traditionally eaten on St. Nicholas Day.

A Gluten-Free Holiday Table

Dec 19, 2012

My family's holiday traditions are simple but consistent: Wake up Christmas morning, drink lots of coffee, eat a good breakfast, and wish each other happy happy. If the weather is nice, we postpone the present opening and pile into the car to head directly to the beach for a walk — a sunny December day along the Northern California coast is something to celebrate. Later, we cook a delicious dinner and sit around the table with a fire glowing in the fireplace nearby.

If you're looking for a dash of optimism about the future — and who isn't, these days? — you can find it in a rosy new prediction about the planet's ability to produce food for the next half-century.

After months on their sticky trail, Canadian police have finally fingered the people allegedly involved in the great Canadian maple syrup caper Bill Chappell told us about in August.

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