Couch Potato

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A couch potato might be someone who sits long hours on their couch with a bag of potato chips in hand, but that is not where the expression comes from. As you may know, old timers often call the TV the boob tube. Someone watching the boob tube might be called a boob tuber, and a potato being the most famous of all tubers is why we say couch potato. I know…not the history you were expecting…or even wanting to hear. But I’m telling you anyway.

Snap! Crackle! Pop!

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In America, Rice Krispies cereal speaks English: “Snap! Crackle! Pop!”  But this cereal is a world traveler and a polyglot.  When in Mexico, Rice Krispies switches to Spanish and says “Pim! Pum! Pam!”  In Quebec it says “Cric! Crac! Croc!”  In Switzerland it is “Piff! Paff! Poff!” Rice Krispies favorite stop, however, is Germany, where it says, “Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!”

German Chocolate Cake

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What does Germany have to do with pecans and coconuts?  Why is this cake called German chocolate?  German chocolate cake actually has nothing to do with Germany.  German’s chocolate cake was the original name and was attributed to the American chocolate maker, Sam German.  He developed the dark baking chocolate that the cake is made with.  The frosting is the most distinguishing aspect of the cake; the gooey caramel with coconut and pecans now define the cake, not the dark chocolate.  And that is the rest of the story….

Ketchup

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Tomato Ketchup – isn’t that a redundant phrase? Isn’t ketchup a tomato sauce? Not necessarily. Tomato ketchup is by far the most popular kind of ketchup, but there have existed mushroom ketchups, oyster ketchups and others.

Where does this strange word ketchup come from? Ketchup actually comes from Chinese koechiap meaning brine of fish or fish sauce. It was in the early 16th century when Chinese sailors introduced British settlers in Fuji to the sauce. This was a fish sauce that we would now recognize as the fish sauce found in your local Asian market. When the recipe was taken home to England it began to evolve, following the whims of the cooks and the restrictions of what they had in the cupboard. Jane Austin was known to love walnut ketchup.

The English played with ketchups for more than 200 years but never put a tomato in it; they thought tomatoes were poisonous. In 1834, a physician in Ohio, made claims that tomato was actually a cure-all. He was the first to make tomato ketchup, but he sold it encased in a pill that was patented and sold at pharmacies. Soon that fad died away, but tomato ketchup (now as a condiment) was here to stay.

Tamarind

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Tamarind is the strange brown pod that makes me think of Latin America.  In Mexico, there is a popular iced drink made of the sweet syrup of the tamarind plant called agua de tamarindo.  It also makes its way into sauces, ice creams and other dishes of the Latin kitchen. 

To my surprise, however, the tamarind plant is from tropical Africa, particularly Sudan. Its name comes from Arabic تمر هندی‎ (tamr-hindī) meaning date of IndiaTamar means date palm in Hebrew and is the origin of the girls name Tamara.

In Sudan they do speak Arabic, but why would they call it the date from India? Although the pod is native to Africa, Southeast Asia has adopted it as its own.  Some say it might have made its way to India as early as 2000 BC.  Arabic speakers who got most of their tamarind from India cemented its name as the date from India.   

Quote of the Week

Ping-pong was invented on the dining tables of England in the 19th century, and it was called Wiff-waff! And there, I think, you have the difference between us and the rest of the world. Other nations, the French, looked at a dining table and saw an opportunity to have dinner; we looked at it an saw an opportunity to play Wiff-waff.
– Boris Johnson

At a dinner party one should eat wisely but not too well, and talk well but not too wisely.
W. Somerset Maugham

Marinara

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There are two theories on the history of marinara sauce. Marinara translates to mariner or sailor. This sauce was either used out at sea by the Neapolitan sailors or cooked up quickly by the sailor’s wives when the ships were spotted on the horizon. Either way the key here is that the sauce is fast and simple, just what is called for when feeding hungry sailors.

Alfredo Sauce

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An Italian would have no idea what fettuccine Alfredo is. In Italy, this butter and parmesan sauce would be called “fettuccine burro (butter) e parmigiano” or “in bianco”. But if you’ve ever been guilty of ordering Chicken McNuggets at Wendy’s you know that foods can become branded. Alfredo Di Lelio renamed this plain butter sauce fettuccine Alfredo in his popular, tourist-laden restaurant in Rome. Visits from Hollywood stars destined his restaurant to be a go to spot for American tourists. And just like the regular old nugget can never lose the title ‘Mc’, regular old butter and parmesan sauce can’t lose the name Alfredo – at least in America. The Di Lelio family still owns a restaurant preserving the tradition of Alfredo sauce called Il Vero Alfredo in Rome.

Humble Pie

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When you are forced to admit to being wrong it can be hard to swallow, or at least that is the sensation described by the idioms to eat crow, to eat dirt, to eat your hat, or to eat your shoe.  These are all unpleasant things to eat, just like admitting your faults can be unpleasant to do.

The most interesting of these idioms however, is to eat humble pie.  The origin of this was a legitimate dish called umble pie.  Umble pie was an actual food eaten by the poor, as it was mostly deer entrails. Umble had nothing to do with humble, but rather evolved from the French word nomble which means innards.  People began to hear ‘humble pie’ and the rest is history.  It was assumed that to eat this pie was as terrible as the sensation of being humbled.  Now eating humble pie is just an idiom like to eat crow. 

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