I don’t mind what language an opera is sung in so long as it is a language I don’t understand.
Edward Appleton (physicist)

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Soft Drink

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Soft drink used to mean any drink that didn’t contain alcohol (a hard drink).  Later it was adopted by the soda industry to refer to their product.  They settled on soft drink because of the plethora of regional names that the drink went by (coke, soda, pop, minerals, etc.)  Soft drink was a universal term, but with time, it’s become so closely assosiated with sodas that it is no longer used for any other type of beverage.

Velouté

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Velouté is our last mother sauce.  Remember covering ‘BETH’?  Bechamel, espagnol, tomato and hollandaise are the other French base sauces that we’ve already read about.  Velouté is essentially a white stock thickened with roux.  White stocks are made with bones that were not roasted, generally chicken and fish.

Velouté translates to velvety in French.  Velour is velvet – think brightly colored velour outfits.  This is our most straight-forward sauce etymology yet!  Thanks velouté.

With a Grain of Salt

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Pliny the Elder is always ending up center stage of a good idea.  He gets credit for a lot of concepts.

One more of these never ending tidbits attributed to him is making prominent the phrase, “take it with a grain of salt”.  Pliny made famous this phrase when recounting a recipe for a poison antidote.

Pliny’s antidote recipe can be found in his book Naturalis Historia (77 C.E.).  It reads as follows:

“After the defeat of that mighty monarch, Mithridates, Gnaeus Pompeius found in his private cabinet a recipe for an antidote in his own handwriting; it was to the following effect: Take two dried walnuts, two figs, and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt; if a person takes this mixture fasting, he will be proof against all poisons for that day.

Literally this phrase meant you’d be protected from poison. The figurative meaning of the phrase is to not take something too seriously.  In other words, the person ingesting the information should take it with a grain of salt because it might not be true, it might be poison.

Pie Town

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Pie Town, New Mexico sits on the Great Divide at around 8,000 feet.  Maybe you live closer to Sandwich, Mass.; Burnt Corn, Alabama; Cookietown, Oklahoma; or Hot Coffee, Mississippi.  These are all intriguing, but I’ll start close to home.

Dust Bowlers came to Pie Town and built it into a spot on the map during the 1930’s.  I suppose the name had something to do with its allure in a time of strict austerity. Legend has it that the name came from the first settler, Clyde Norman, a WWI veteran.  He staked a mine claim there in the 1920’s, but more importantly loved making dried apple pies (dried?  I know…I don’t get it either).

The depression era history of Pie Town was well captured by Russell Lee in the 1930’s.  He came to capture the impacts of the Great Depression on rural America as a photographer with the Farm Security Administration.  Since then, the pictures he took have been seen by people across the country.  The people of Pie Town have been put on display many times in books and museums.

Next time you see one of those pictures from that era; the picture of the gaunt woman with severe eyes, or a child standing in a field barefoot, that might very well be a resident of Pie Town, New Mexico.

 

You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.

-Yogi Berra

Dachas

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When Michelle Obama visited Russia back in 2009, she was congratulated by the Russian press for ‘working the White House like a dacha’.  I was able to see this thing called a dacha on a trip to Poland back in 2007.

But let’s start the story in America.  If you don’t have a chicken at your urban residence, you are behind the times.  If you don’t have herbs and vegetables clinging to your windowsill, you are out of step.  You probably don’t drink locally brewed beer or eat upmarket hot dogs.  If this describes you, you probably think that chicken raising and vegetable gardens should be left to the owners of suburban or country homes.

But what do urban dwellers do about our inner peasant?  How can we satiate the small gardener in our soul trying to breath free, donning a trowel in one hand and a bunch of carrots held up triumphantly in the other?  If you live in Moscow, you might imagine that this little gardener will die a slow death amidst the smog, the Bolshoi and the colorful onion domes.  But that is not true!

More than 60% of Muscovites spend time at their family country cottage, known as a dacha.   Summers (albeit short ones) are spent at these dachas.  Russians pride themselves on being a society of gardeners; apples are plucked, cucumbers pickled, and jams jarred at their dachas.

Dacha comes from the Russian word дать (davat) “to give”.  Originally, during the time of Peter the Great, loyal vassals would receive parcels of land on which to put a summer home.  But summer living started getting crowded during the 1960s.  During this time, the soviet party issued land for a dacha to anyone who applied – for free.  And now just about everyone has one.  They are a common sight in much of Eastern Europe.

So if you like growing your own food, on your own parcel of land, may I recommend moving to Moscow?

Here is a first hand account of dacha living that paints an interesting picture:

http://metacognitivedissonance.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/dacha/

Etiquette

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In Spanish, etiqueta means label, such as a clothes label, etiqueta de la ropa.  But in English, etiquette means something quite different. Is it possible that they have the same origin but completely different meanings?  Yes, it turns out.  The English word etiquette, meaning proper behavior, comes from the time of Louis XIV (why is it always about him?).

Noblemen allowed to visit Versailles had the difficult task of knowing all of the rules imposed by the king.  Louis XIV, to help with this, decided to label everything.  “Keep off the grass”,  “Don’t touch”,  “Don’t pick the flowers” were all signs, or labels, posted around the property.  Since then, good manners have been associated with labels instructing the behavior.  Therefore, in French and Spanish, etiquette/ etiqueta, means label and good manners.

Hollandaise Sauce

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Pars pro toto vs. Totum pro parte (a quick tangent)

Holland is an example of pars pro toto and America is an example of totum pro parte. If you can guess why this is, leave a comment to explain it.

Ok, on to Hollandaise sauce!  Steamed asparagus with a little yummy butter and egg emulsion known as Hollandaise sauce – a perfect Sunday brunch treat.  Hollandaise is one of the five mother sauces in haute French cuisine thanks to Marie-Antoine Carême.

Why is it called Hollandaise sauce?  It didn’t start off that way.  This butter and egg sauce was originally called sauce Isigny after a town in northern France famous for its delicious butter. The town Isigny-sur-Mer in Normandy was where the gourmands of France preferred to buy their butter. The town’s location on the sea reportedly instilled a unique terroir in the product.  However, during WWI the French could no longer produce enough butter to supply the country,  so butter was imported mostly from Holland.  Therefore the sauce name changed to represent the origin of the main ingredient.  Despite the name, the butter rich sauce is actually French (big surprise?).

Proof is in the Pudding

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The proof is in the pudding.

Pudding, as opaque and thick as it is, could potentially have a lot of things lurking in it. The proof is in the orange juice, the proof is in the tuna sandwich; these are less likely scenarios. Pudding could conceivably contain proof, victory, old tennis shoes, and my long gone stolen laptop.

‘The proof is in the pudding’ is a decomposed and reassembled version of the original idiom, ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’. ‘Proof’ having been in its now mostly antiquated form (except for in that god-forsaken high school math class) meaning ‘test’. In other words, you have to give something a try before knowing its value.

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