Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Obscure Origins of April Fool’s Day

You’ve all heard the stories, right?  From the fooler or foolee that executed or was victimized by the ultimate April Fool’s joke.  Hell, it was only a year ago that I regaled readers of this blog about my wife and her mother “fooling” me into believing that we were on the verge of birthing triplets, to include ancestral proof and an ultrasound video of the trio.

Another classic April Fool’s story was applied on a national scale when sportswriter, George Plimpton, wrote of New York Mets fireball pitcher, Sidd Finch, in the April 1, 1985 edition of Sports Illustrated.

Plimpton claimed that Finch was raised in an English orphanage, studied Buddhism, and could throw a baseball an astounding 168 miles-per-hour.  Mets fans were ecstatic, networks and newspapers rushed to interview the yoga-practicing phenomenon, and batters feared for their lives.  And it was all a hoax conceived by Plimpton, Sports Illustrated and (gasp!) even the Mets were in on it.  All involved came clean in the April 15th issue.  But where and how did this tradition of fooling people begin?  And why on April 1st?

Let’s answer the second question first.  The month of April is named after the Greek goddess of wit, mirth and laughter, Aprilis.  Aprilis was the daughter of Aphrodite (goddess of love and pleasure, among other things) and Dionysus (god of wine, parties and ecstasy among other things).  With a lineage like that, it’s easy to understand why Aprilis was fond of a god-awful good time.

Zeus eventually tasked Aprilis with making him laugh at other’s expense.  In other words, he had Aprilis use her significant humorous wit to develop and initiate practical jokes on the other gods and goddesses.

Aprilis once famously replaced Hades’ fearsome, three-headed dog, Cerberus, with a fluffy, three-headed bunny named Mazeménos, which roughly translates to “cuddly.”  Simultaneously, she convinced her father to replace the deadly waters of the River Styx with wine which the damned promptly used throw a massive party during which they all became thoroughly inebriated.  Hades failed to see the humor in all this.  However, Zeus laughed his ass off.  Now that we know the answer to the first query, let’s tackle the second.

During the Renaissance, when the artists, authors and royalty of Europe re-discovered the works of ancient Greece, some came across the stories of the heretofore obscure minor goddess, Aprilis.  One future king who reveled in the exploits of Aprilis was Henry VIII of England.

Before Henry wed six different women and had two of them beheaded, he was an impetuous youth with too much time on his hands, which could probably be said of many princes.  After all, he had an older brother, Arthur, who would ascend to the English throne rather than Henry.  Therefore, as the second born male heir, Henry was pretty much left to do as he pleased.

Young Henry quickly fell in with his father’s court jester, Stephen.  A quick word about Renaissance court jesters, or “fools” as they were sometimes called.  They certainly were not vacuous, dim-witted men prancing around in tights and a four-cornered hat complete with bells, juggling beer steins while telling crude jokes.  A Jester was, in fact, a highly intelligent individual chosen for his rapier-like wit and ability to challenge all at court with his biting sarcasm and humorous insults.  Sounds a bit like the goddess of wit, mirth and laughter, does it not?

Anyway, young Henry and Stephen had a grand time “punking” any and all members of Henry VII’s court.  And Stephen, with the protection of the young prince, was able to get away with murder, so-to-speak.  Even after Henry’s older brother, Arthur, died in 1502, making Henry next in line to the throne, he kept Stephen close and used him as an unofficial adviser.

However, this relationship displeased many at court, including Henry’s father who considered Stephen a nuisance at best and a corrupting influence on Henry at worst.  Eventually, Henry VIII’s father had the Duke of Leister accuse Stephen of treasonous activities.  A show trial ensued and Stephen was locked away in the Tower of London in 1508, never to be seen again.  His fate, to this day, remains unknown.

After Henry VIII ascended to the throne in 1509 and throughout his reign, he never forgot his childhood friend who could so easily make him laugh.  As Henry wrestled with the affairs of church and state, he often remembered those carefree days spent with Stephen as they roamed the halls and rooms at Windsor Castle and Hampton Court.  It is believed that largely due to these memories, Henry desired to set aside a special day in which practical jokes were not only accepted, but encouraged, in honor of his first and only true friend, Stephen.

And what better day to celebrate the memory of Stephen, than on the first day of the month named after the goddess of wit, mirth and laughter, Aprilis?  So there you have it, the long, convoluted and somewhat touching story of the origins of April Fool’s Day.  And yes, this entire story is a total work of fiction in the tradition of the tale of Sidd Finch.  I have no idea of the true origins of April Fool’s Day as I feared if I did know the true facts, they would seep into this fictionalized version.  Happy April Fool’s Day.

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Kale, Avocado and Chia Seeds are Out: The Top Ten Superfoods of 2017

In case you haven’t heard, 2016 superfoods are, like, so last year.  We’re well into 2017 and it’s time to update your superfood list and we here at MagicKitchen.com are here to help.

Through exhaustive and laborious research (don’t think I’ve ever done anything exhaustively and/or laboriously in my life) we’ve compiled a list of the ten most popular superfoods for 2017.  Some we’re sure you’ve heard of before (watermelon seeds) and some, while having been around for all of eternity, are just having their nutritional values “discovered” (sumac, maringa & the alien sounding sacha inchi nuts).

Remember, this is just a superficial description of each, for more information, simply “Google” each one.  And without further ado, here they are:

  1. Watermelon seeds – These things are on just about every superfood site I visited during my laborious and exhaustive research and each site claimed they will not sprout and grow in your tummy if eaten. They do, however, provide mad nutritional benefits if eaten only after they sprout (outside your stomach) and are shelled prior to being eaten.  Not to worry, you don’t have to do that yourself as they can be purchased that way.  As for their nutritional benefits, they offer ten grams of protein per ounce, and are chock full of vitamin B, magnesium and both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
  1. Raw cacao nibs – A synonym for “nibs” would be bits or pieces. Just think of this as chocolate without all the other stuff, especially sugar.  Raw cacao contains numerous flavonoids which serve as an anti-inflammatory and support both the cardiovascular and nervous systems.  Flavonoids also provide many fruits and veggies with their rich colors, such as the vibrant red of raspberries.  Other nutrients contained within cacao include magnesium and riboflavin.
  1. Buckwheat – No, not the lovable character from Our Gang/The Little Rascals that Eddie Murphy immortalized in Saturday Night Live skits from the 1980s, but the gluten-free flour substitute used to make pancakes, among other things. Buckwheat (there’s actually no wheat in buckwheat.  It’s a fruit seed.) is a great source of vegetarian protein, dietary fiber, and manganese.  It’s also been shown to help control blood sugar levels and protect against heart disease.
  1. Purple Vegetables – And not just eggplants and beets, but corn, carrots, and asparagus too. Why?  Well, it goes back to those antioxidants called flavonoids that provide these veggies with their color that the musician Prince (RIP) most certainly ate in large amounts.  These flavonoids help lower the risk of high blood pressure, reduce inflammation and support brain health and since they’re also rich in vitamin A they support eye health as well.
  1. Chaga mushrooms – Usually found in dried or powder form, chaga isn’t a true mushroom, but a fungus that grows on birch trees…before you gross out, remember, all mushrooms are, technically, a fungus. Derived from the Russian word for “mushroom,” chaga contains over 200 phytonutrients and flavonoids that support the immune system.  Other nutrients contained in chaga (which is often used to make tea or coffee) are B and D vitamins, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, and pantothenic acid.

  1. Sacha inchi nuts – AKA Incan peanuts as they’re found in the Peruvian highlands. These plant seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and vitamins A and E.  These nutrients have been shown to control blood glucose levels, lower LDL cholesterol levels and support brain and heart health.

 

  1. Jackfruit – As opposed to a jackass (sorry, couldn’t resist). The tropical, starchy, fibrous jackfruit is the largest fruit on the globe.  A single jackfruit can weigh in at more than 100 pounds.  It can be used by vegetarians, or even carnivores and omnivores for that matter, as a meat substitute (Mmmmm, jackfruit steak).  It tends to absorb the flavor of what it’s cooked with and provides its consumer with various flavonoids, protein, potassium, fiber, vitamins B and A, and iron.
  1. Maringa – The tiny leaves of the maringa tree, native to India but also found in Africa, Asia and South and Central America, are showing up in smoothies all over the Western world and with good reason. They are a very nutrient dense source of vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, protein, potassium and antioxidants that combat stress causing free radicals within the body.
  1. Sumac – This Middle Eastern spice (not the “poison” version we deal with in the U.S.) has a tart and salty taste and has been found to be stuffed full of antioxidants and serves as a great salt substitute as well. These free radical neutralizing, anti-inflammatory antioxidants also promote heart health. Many simply sprinkle the red powder on their salads, pasta or rice, but others use it to flavor their meat and fish as well.
  1. Black Currants – The tart berry, not a dark running river or stream of electricity…get it?…were once thought to spread a fungus that killed pine trees (that’s not the case). They’re most often used in jams, jellies, juices, and health drinks and contain what all the other foods on this list do…antioxidants, but they also possess vitamins C, A and E, gamma-linolenic acid, and anthocyanins.  These nutrients help support healthy immune and cardiovascular systems.

So, after writing this, I immediately made and consumed a purple carrot, black currant, maringa, sumac, buckwheat, raw cacao, sacha inchi nut, watermelon seed, chaga mushroom, and jackfruit smoothie and soon after developed the combined superpowers of the Hulk, Spiderman and Wonder Woman.  Individual results may vary.

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Easter Means Spring, So Eat Like it!

Easter is, of course, a deeply religious holiday for Christians across the country and many observe it in reflection at their house of worship, followed by a rare, sit-down meal with friends and family.  And it is to the latter that this post is focused.  A theologian I am not.

Easter also serves a secondary purpose, just as Memorial Day ushers in summer and Labor Day ushers it out, Easter signifies the end of winter and the arrival (or imminent arrival, depending when it falls on the calendar), of spring.  And spring usually means a change in our eating habits from filling, winter comfort food to lighter, healthier, more active fare.

With this in mind, perhaps we should look for alternatives to the traditional ham or lamb, scalloped or au gratin potatoes, veggie casseroles, and dessert cakes for our Easter meal.  So here are some of those alternatives to consider.

Salads

This is the perfect opportunity to meld the two things that most represent spring: fruits and vegetables…with a light dressing such as vinaigrette, sesame ginger, or garlic balsamic.  Spinach and strawberries always work well together and other fruits that work well in an otherwise veggie salad are grapes, raspberries, diced pear, avocado, mango, cranberries…oh hell, just about any fruit works in a green salad and the same could be said for nuts…walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, etc.

Appetizers

Is it not time to ditch the deviled egg appetizer that everyone thinks is so cute after the kids have spent the morning hunting those same eggs (How did eggs get associated with Easter anyway?  It’s not like Easter bunnies lay eggs).  How about a nice avocado or hummus dip or spicy salsa?  Or some roasted edamame and/or artichoke hearts, or cauliflower wings (essentially cauliflower wedges dipped in various wing sauces.) Martha Stewart, as always, has some great ideas here http://www.marthastewart.com/275143/lighter-appetizer-recipes

Entrées

I guess this subtitle should have read “entrées other than ham or lamb.”  For the vegans/vegetarians in the crowd, a nice eggplant Parmesan, veggie lasagna or pasta primavera (primavera means spring in many romance languages, after all) would be to die for.  For the carnivores, a nice slab of roasted or poached salmon is a great alternative as is a nice baked chicken dish.  Here are some other great ham/lamb alternatives  http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/19868/holidays-occasions/easter/dinner/

And of course, you can always order ready made meals at MagicKitchen.com.

Desserts

I think it goes without saying that I’m not referring to chocolate bunnies, peeps (you know, those fluffy, yellow blobs of sugar), or candied eggs of any type here.  Perhaps your guests would prefer cinnamon baked pears, a fruity sorbet or sherbet, a berry and yogurt parfait, a light and airy angel food cake (topped with fruit, of course), or hollowed out strawberries filled with vanilla yogurt and topped with graham cracker crumbs.  There are plenty of low-cal, spring dessert recipes out there and here are a few examples  http://www.self.com/gallery/9-healthy-3-ingredient-desserts-under-250-calories

Remember, just because you’ve eaten ham/lamb and some creamy potato dish every Easter since you were a kid does not mean it must continue.  This spring, break the bonds of Easters past, step away from tradition, embrace change and eat differently.  It’s not like there’s momentous consequences at stake here…it’s only Easter dinner.

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March is National Nutrition Month

National Nutrition Month is upon us yet, again. Yes, March is here already. It seems like yesterday I was just reminiscing about great foods for Fall. At that point, I was taken back to when I was a kid and all the unhealthy things we would eat. When I was little, it didn’t matter if it wasn’t good for me. I just wanted it to taste good. Food from the county fair, Halloween, and football never seemed to be healthy. Funnell cakes, chocolate candy in my Halloween bag, and chili dogs were all yummy. They certainly weren’t pictured on the Food Pyramid.

I have to admit that the chili dogs weren’t just something I’d get only during football season. There was this great little family run country store out by my grandparent’s house. We’d go there as a treat and order a chili dog, fries, and a soda. The drinks were in glass bottles, right inside a frosty cooler. The sounds of deep fat fryers and the POP! of a refrigerated cooler door can take me back to those moments in an instant. I didn’t care how many calories and fat I was ingesting on those days. Nutrition? Who cared? It’s a different story these days.

Why was it ok then? Probably two reasons. First, we only ate like that a couple of times a year, and sodas were treats we’d get maybe once a week. Two, as kids we were way more active, out on the streets until sundown, playing and running around. But that can cause problems later in life, when we get more sedentary and still eat the same bad things. So learning good nutrition young is the focus.

Nutrition is thought of as the way food is brought in and turned into energy for the body. We seem to do all we can and discover ways to either stay healthy or get that way. Exercise and having an optimal body weight are key components to being healthy. The essence of this year’s National Month of Nutrition is “Put Your Best Fork Forward”, focusing on the fact that we are ultimately responsible for our own nutritional needs and we have the tools necessary to achieve optimal nutrition.

One of the best tools out there these days are premade meal delivery services. My favorite is Magickitchen.com. They have a large variety of meals for all types of nutritional needs. It doesn’t matter if you are focusing on just eating healthier or if you need special meals for medical purposes such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or renal dietary needs. They do all the cooking for you. The main tools you will need are an oven and microwave.

What is on your plate these days? The USDA has a great look at the history of what they have suggested to fill your plate since 1916 ( https://www.choosemyplate.gov/brief-history-usda-food-guides).

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