Pink Martini, the band, is really very extraordinary. Major kudos to Danielle for introducing me.
But anyway, the ponder point of today: fruit and what we do to it.
Pick up an orange in the grocery store. Or an apple or pear. It's waxed. Yep, that's right, waxed. Not that fruit is hairy or anything-- the wax keeps moisture in and makes it shiny and luscious. Isn't that weird?
Bananas, as well as oranges, are sprayed with ethylene gas to hasten ripening. I'm no expert, but ethylene sounds like a petroleum product to me.
So, we wax 'em, we spray 'em, and lastly, we dye them. You guys have seen the oranges and bananas that are not uniformly orange or yellow but mottled with green and brown, right? That's fruit au natural. We inject fruit with dye to eliminate spots and make it more appealing to consumers.
Gosh. Can we blame this on Hollywood? Must we wax, spray, and dye our fruit as well as ourselves?
And the bitch of it is: it's not working. Women are more attractive than ever before, what with shrunken thighs and bleached teeth and boob jobs and whatnot. Fruit is available 365 days of the year in shiny uniform goodness. And still, divorce and obesity rates continue to increase.
I love the holidays. I always have, and now that my Thanksgiving vacation won't be dogged by the paper some idiot professor assigned me, they'll be even better-- albeit shorter.
When I was a young hip thing I tried to hate Thanksgiving and Christmas, because that's the young hip thing to do. But I didn't really succeed. Now, grant you, I don't love all the things that come with the holidays, such as blatant commercialism, tights, airborn spatulas, and having to clean the whole damn house.
But I love turkey. I love goose. I love singing "Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat." I really love the fact that it's Tuesday and I only have to work tomorrow before I'm done for the week.
I even love the whole macho Thanksgiving football thing, where my uncles try to watch the game before my sister and cousin wheedle them into "Clueless."
OK, so I knew that the spice trade used to be important. I knew that people would pay in pepper because it was so valuable. I even knew that Attila demanded part of his Roman ransom in pepper.
But here's the shocking little secret: I didn't really know what pepper was. Do you?
Well, here's the news: pepper is indigenous to Asia, but is also cultivated in India and China. Peppercorns are nothing more than the dried seeds of the pepper plant. Black pepper is ground from such peppercorns.
And here's where it gets tricky...white pepper is fully mature peppercorns but with the outside "rind" taken off pre-grounding. Green pepper is immmature ground-up peppercorns. AND there is PINK PEPPER, which is grown somewhere totally different, possibly from a different plant, and I don't understand it.
Mustard? (yeah, I'm a dork.) Mustard is really from mustard greens-- and the brown seedy things in Dijon are the seeds of mustard greens. There are black, brown, and yellow seeds-- the darker, the more pungent. Dijon uses only black and brown. Oh, and there is a Mustard Museum out in Mount Hores, Wisconsin.
Lastly: tea was not in Western European society until about the 15th century. I think William of Orange had it and liked it, but don't quote me on that one.
Mkay chickens. Fun facts for Friday.
p.s. someone argue with the medieval poster cos I just ain't that philosophical.
Ah, the Medieval Ages....birds sang, women had long flowing hair and rode naked on horseback, and Robin Hood gave money to the poor.
Right. So we all know that that's probably not the way it was.
But for all of those who say that the world is in worse shape than it ever has been before, consider these facts:
By the thirteenth century, England had cut down ALL ITS TREES to forge iron and was burning coal and importing timber from Scandinavia. By the fourteenth century, London lay under fogs, and "sea coal"-- the dirtiest kind-- was illegal.
Water was so dirty because of the whole excrement problem that everyone drank wine or ale.
And then there are the sumptuary laws. Ah, how I love the sumptuary laws. No matter how much money you have, you could only wear expensive clothes if you were highclass enough. Needless to say, this didn't work, as sumptuary laws got passed all the time, ever since the nobles lost their strangehold over the peasants after 1348 (the Black Death).
Other fun laws? Remember Crecy, where the English longbow carried the day against the sun-blinded French? The English fell so in love with bows that they forbade anyone, anywhere to play any kind of game, such as kicking a ball around, except archery. Only sport allowed, by decree of the King.
That one didn't work either.
But here's a bone:
Europe shifted from subsistence to capitalism during these centuries, and the change was more...difficult then you might imagine. People were really, actually worried that MAKING A PROFIT was immoral. Not robbing the other person blind. Just making a profit. Some people, like Aquinas I think, came up with some kind of percentage, like it's okay to make x amount of profit, but y amount is just being a greedy pig.
Ah, those were the days. Them polluted, boozy days.
A few summers ago, my mother and I took a trip up the coast of Maine and into Canada. We drove, and we drove, and we drove though all this flat land studded with pine trees, until we came to a bridge. We crossed the bridge (despite the exorbinant toll. $40 Canadian) and then we were on the island of red soil, lupines, and potatoes: Prince Edward Island.
This place, while bustling and amazingly large for an island, seemed pretty remote to me. My mother and I stayed in a hostel in a little fishing village, from which departed a ferry to the iles de la madeline.
I wanted to go. How far? I asked our red-headed waitress at the Irish pub.
About 8 hours, said she.
We didn't go. But folks, there are these islands out there, french-speaking, that are 8 hours away FROM ANOTHER ISLAND!
There is a direct flight from Montreal. People live there. Apparently, there are some good b&bs.
But can you imagine? I'm charmed and intrigued. You couldn't drive to the mall. You can't go to a great concert a few hours away. No hopping on the interstate and going to another state without ferries or planes.
Eight hours away from another island. Blows my mind.
In case you didn't see Angeline's superior comment, she pointed out that button mushrooms and portabellos are the same species, but different strains. Like the snooty older sister of the down-home working girl. But still, aren't you surprised?
Onwards from the mushrooms:
Cute story #1:
Anika told me this story. Her friend, J., had passionate feelings towards one of the residents in their apartment building. A young, handsome bloke, who seemed very amiable. She got on sufficiently good terms with him to chat at the mail bloxes and run by for cups of sugar, but alas, the poor dense fellow did not take the hint and she remained date-less.
So what did this girl do?
With her heart beating in her ears, she went and knocked on his door.
"I have a crush on you," she said.
And then she turned and ran down the hall.
N.B. this is brilliance. She appeals to his vanity and kicks in his predatory instict in one gesture. Men are like my dog: compelled to chase things that run. (Except you, sweetie.)
So, surprise surprise, he chased her, caught her, turned her around, and said, "You can't run away after saying something like that!"
She said, "yes, I can," and turned and ran away again.
Eventually, he caught her, and they've been running around Berlin hand-in-hand for over a year now.
So, I was thinking about mushrooms the other day. All those packaged mushrooms in grocery stores-- where do they come from? Do people somewhere cultivate fields of mushrooms? And because I have the leisure to research any question that pops in my sweet head, I googled it.
Alright, first the facts: the Netherlands is the biggest exporter of button mushrooms, and the third most important exporter of mushrooms in general after China, big surprise, and someone else I forget. Sorry.
But this is the breaking news: you know portabello mushrooms? And crimini mushrooms? Both of which cost more than your average homely white button. BUT! They are the same mushroom, same latin name, everything! They are just allowed to mature longer, so they grow larger and browner. I refer you to http://www.mushroomexpert.com/agaricus_bisporus.html if you don't believe me.
Who the heck knew?
Portabellos are the red bell peppers of mushrooms!
You know what makes me happy? That Vermont exists. That somewhere, there is a land green and cool without billboards, neon lights, and all-night gas-stations...okay, they do have a FEW all night gas stations, but they're very tightly zoned.
And-- not they represent all Vermonters-- but that there are people who really, truly beleive that throwing away plastic bottles is a sin, that make-up is for flatlanders, and that $100 for a dress is highway robbery. That solar is obviously the power de jeur and that gatherings where you make your own icecream with your own maple syrup are the place to be.
That there is a place where everyone has their own snow plow!
Vermont. Land of good cheese, brillo beards, lumberjacks, and of course-- maple syrup. In the coffee and on the ice cream.