Lesser-Known Gourds: A Puzzle


Now this is man who understands gourds.

In our household, we have an inside joke that goes, “Pumpkin! (Groan!) The most common kind of gourd!” I guess you kind of had to be there.

‘Tis the season for jack-o-lanterns, but leave those groan-worthy pumpkins behind, because this is our ode to less common gourds. Can you name each member of the Cucurbitaceae family described below? These aren’t easy, but pay attention to the contextual clues and use your…well, you know, and you’ll do just fine.

  1. You might not think it while you’re using it to scrub off your dead skin, but this spongy vegetable is actually a gourd.
  2. You can eat the seeds of this gourd, and even use them to make a Mexican sweet similar to peanut brittle, but Adam didn’t use it as impromptu clothing as the name might lead you to believe.
  3. These squashes look a little like flying saucers, but they’re named for the kind of vessel in which you might bake a small cake.
  4. A lumpy green gourd native to Mesoamerica, it’s also called a mirliton when it pops up in Cajun cuisine.
  5. These gourds are often dried to make utensils, leading to the nickname “the bottle gourd.” The name also sounds similar to a character from The Tempest.
  6. This type of melon is good to eat, and though it can be harvested all summer long, it gets its name from its ability to be stored a long time, maybe even until Christmas.
  7. This squash is very popular in Japan, and its nutty flesh can be eaten many different ways, but it sounds more like a popular Thai dish.
  8. That commercial pumpkin pie mix you buy probably contains not pumpkin but rather this relative, named for its curved slender top portion.

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Too Sexy for My Lettuce: Aphrodisiac Puzzle

In Greek mythology, Aphrodite’s lover Adonis is killed in a lettuce field, and thus lettuce became a symbol of mourning and impotence. Poor lettuce; it’s the anti-aphrodisiac.

But you can do better than lettuce this Valentine’s Day! Name the aphrodisiac described by each piece of historical lore listed below. And since this is a tough one, you’ll find each of the answers in the photo collage below, though not all the photos will be used.


  1. The Kama Sutra suggested making this food into a drinkable paste to arouse desire, while the French advised that it be eaten three times the day before one’s wedding.
  2. Because of its shape and color, this food was a symbol of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
  3. Hippocrates recommended this food for sexual vigor, and couples were once advised to drink an alcohol made of it during the first month of their marriage.
  4. After being scorned by a woman, Zeus supposedly turned her into one of these, and because of its tough exterior, it is a natural symbol for playing hard to get.
  5. The Talmud suggests that married couples eat this food on Fridays in preparation for fulfilling their marital duties.
  6. The Aztec word for this food is same as their word for testicle, and it was believed to be such a strong aphrodisiac that virginal women were forbidden from being present while it was harvested.
  7. This food was once considered an aphrodisiac in Europe, but probably because it was still a rare import from the New World.
  8. This was believed to be Cleopatra’s favorite fruit, and in ancient Greece, its harvest also marked the time of a…erm, copulation ritual.
  9. Cassanova supposedly ate fifty of these for breakfast every morning, and Roman doctors prescribed them as a cure for impotence.
  10. Greek superstition holds that if a woman puts this food under her pillow, she’ll dream of her future husband, and giving it to someone in India is tantamount to making a pass.

Don’t scroll down or click Continue until you’re ready to see the Answers! Continue reading

Quick-n-Easy-Sticky-Sweety-Monkey-Bread Breakfast Huzzah!

IMG_1725Do you know monkey bread?

You need to know monkey bread.

Monkey bread is a Southern staple, super easy to make, and stupid delicious.  We used to have it on the regular after church on Sundays, but I rarely make it as an adult.  Perhaps because of this scarcity of monkey bread in my life, I’ve come to think of it as significantly a Christmas thing, an integral part of breakfast, served alongside some kind of spiced juice-tea concoction my mother has served in mugs shaped like Santa and Mrs. Claus’ heads, and after which consuming I will fall asleep on the floor under the tree in a bathrobe or perhaps sweats and a 26-year-old Def Leppard shirt as soft as The Baby Jesus’ fanny.

After making it at home this year for a solo Shannon-&-Jason Christmas, though, I think I’ll be making it on the regular again.  Perhaps Mom always brought it out on Christmas because it’s so damn easy.

And because it’s so sticky sweet gooey yummy blam!

To make monkey bread all you need is Continue reading

Fruitcake Memories

fruitcakeIt saddens me to think that fruitcake has fallen from such great heights. In medieval Europe, it was the epitome of luxury, chock full of the spices and nuts and dried fruit that could only be imported, for a hefty price, from the mystical Far East. A perfect birthday cake for Jesus, I guess. But in more recent days, it has become less a Christmas treat than a punch line. Here is a famous fruitcake joke: “The worst Christmas gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other, year after year.” Johnny Carson said that on The Tonight Show, and it’s been downhill for fruitcake ever since.

I will admit that fruitcake, the actual foodstuff, has never made much of an impression on me. I don’t make fruitcake as a Christmas tradition and the few times I’ve eaten it during the holiday season have been less than memorable. But fruitcake as an idea…well, that’s a completely different story.

There are two beloved, imagined fruitcakes in my life. One is from the Truman Capote short story, “A Christmas Memory.” I force Jason to listen to me read this at least once every Christmas season, and out of kindness, he pretends that I’m going to make it to the end each time without crying. (I really am very good at doing the voice of Mr. Haha Jones, by the way). If you haven’t read the story, you should stop reading this right now and follow the link above and read the story already.

Less of a heartbreaker but no less dear to me is a memory that comes from Christmases more distantly past. Continue reading

A Pepper Reeducation


Black bean sliders with chipotle mayo and all the fixins? Yes, please!

A confession, dear readers: I was recently brought face-to-face with my own alarming level of pepper ignorance. I don’t talk about it in mixed company, of course, and I try to give all peppers the respect they deserve, but I do harbor some latent anti-bell-pepper feelings. But that isn’t the half of it. A couple days ago, I realized that I didn’t know one of my pepper darlings (a model minority pepper, if you will) half as well as I thought I did.

And before you get all high and mighty, take this little test. Is the following statement true or false: the chipotle pepper is a variety of pepper (just like bell peppers, banana peppers, Thai chili peppers, etc.) If you said true, you are WRONG, my friend, as wrong as I was. Chipotle peppers are actually a preparation of pepper, not a varietal. They are jalapeño peppers that have been dried and smoked. I know! Crazy! Our little pal the jalapeño has been going incognito! And he’s been smoking his way into chipotle-dom ever since the reign of the Aztecs.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the mega-successful fast food chain, which is probably the reason most of us learned the word “chipotle” in the first place. I became acquainted with my first massive Chipotle burrito as an undergraduate, and if there is a time in your life when it seems like eating your weight in guacamole might just solve all your problems, then that is it.


Meco chipotles

But it wasn’t too long after that when I met the real chipotle and started buying the little cans of chipotles packed in adobo sauce (a marinade of tomatoes, vinegar, spices, etc). These are the easiest ones to score in America; they’re almost certainly in the canned food aisle of your local grocery store. It’s typically the smaller morita kind of chipotles that you find packed into the cans, rather than the larger, smokier, pricier, and more-coveted meco kind. But let’s be honest: meco chipotles look like cigar butts, and I probably wouldn’t quite know what to do with one even if I could find it easily. The canned kind, on the other hand, are super easy to use, and so, so good. If you haven’t yet tried them, here are three terrifically easy ways you can add the smoky kick of the chipotle to your own cooking. Continue reading

Reasons I Would Have Made a Lousy 1950s Cook

50s cookThe other day, I happened upon this little horror show of an article, about the long-running column, “Can this Marriage Be Saved?” in Ladies Home Journal. The 1950s issues of the column were real beauties, mostly counseling women that it was their fault when their husbands acted like jerks. (If you don’t find the advice in the old articles disturbing, just read the comments, since clearly they’re written by your kind of people.) Anyway, I later found this academic article from the Journal of Social History, about what 1950s cookbooks have to say about the women who read them. The author, Jessamyn Neuhaus, is careful to point out that there’s a big difference between what these cookbooks suggest and how those suggestions were received, and, in fact, part of her argument is that 1950s housewives were probably more subversive than most people give them credit for. Even so, it’s hard not to read some of these lines and cringe, and I think it’s fair to say that whoever wrote these cookbooks probably wouldn’t be too impressed with my performance in the kitchen. Here’s why:

1.  I do not demonstrate adequate fondness for Jell-O.
limecheesesaladNothing against Jell-O Jigglers, which I always found kind of awesome, but these cookbooks would have you believe that you could survive on Jell-O alone. Neuhaus calls it a “fantasy food” that could be transformed into anything, and believe me, they tried. Tuna and Jell-O Pie, anyone? Jellied Tomato Refresher? Or how about the delicious Lime Cheese Salad, which involved putting lime Jell-O and cottage cheese into a mold and then filling the center with seafood salad?!

2. I have never felt the desire to throw a themed dinner party.
Apparently, 1950s cookbook authors thought it was a scream to stage things like a “Hawaiian company dinner” or a neighborhood party where “everyone on the block is dressed for the hoe-down,” (though I would sort of like to witness the bafflement on my West Indian neighbors faces if I really tried to sell that hoedown idea). I think the closest I got to a themed dinner party was in my early twenties when my college boyfriend threw a Food that Will Get You Drunk party, Continue reading

Excuse Me, Waiter, But I Found a Tomato in My Gazpacho

gazpachoI’ve been on a gazpacho kick lately, since the cold tomato soup is easy to make and excellent summer fare. The other day, I was about to add a couple handfuls of basil to the blender, thinking, “Basil always goes well with tomatoes in Italian dishes.” And then I thought, “Wait, is this Italian or Spanish or something else?” And then I thought, “Man, I really don’t know much about gazpacho.” So I went hunting for some fun gazpacho history, and let me tell you, gazpacho has some murky little secrets it’s been keeping from you.

Gazpacho is, indeed, Spanish (though arguably Portuguese as well), specifically from the southern Andalusian region of the Iberian Peninsula. And it’s old, really old, though just how old is open to some debate. Some people think it might have its roots in Roman times, based on the fact that the oldest known recipes involve vinegar, and boy, those Romans loved their vinegar. But the more likely story is that the Moors brought over a soup from Morocco when they came to Andalusia around the 8th century, and the Andalusian peasants adopted it as their own since it was the perfect thing to eat while they were working in the fields.

Here’s the crazy part: wherever it came from, that original gazpacho had nary a tomato! It was a paste of garlic, stale bread, olive oil and vinegar, thinned into a soup with water. (A similar dish still exists in Andalusian cuisine, though it’s now called ajo blanco.) They might have added some vegetables and herbs when they were available, but tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers didn’t enter the gazpacho scene until much later, after Columbus brought them back to Europe from the Americas (What up, New World!?).

The name is also cloaked in mystery. Continue reading

The (Almost) Ageless Tale of the Brooklyn Slice


Scott also holds the Guinness World Record for owning the most pizza boxes. One more reason to be jealous.

There is almost nothing better than a good slice of Brooklyn pizza—the molten cheese, the piquant sauce, the chewy crust. But I would argue that listening to Scott Wiener of Scott’s Pizza Tours talk about pizza might be even better than eating it.

During a recent lecture in the Brooklyn Collection of the public library, Scott won me over, not just because of his enthusiasm for pizza (which is considerable) but also his willingness to forego the easy route of merely touting the merits of various pizza joints and instead diving into the more complex terrain of pizza history. You should have seen the way his face lit up when he pulled up the PowerPoint slide of the preserved communal ovens from 1st century A.D. Pompeii. Or the way he elatedly traced the web of relationships that connected Lombardi’s in Little Italy to Totonno’s on Coney Island. (It’s true that I got a little lost during the part of the talk in which he discussed the physics of coal-burning ovens, but that might have been due to the monster pour of white wine a librarian had given me just prior to sitting down. Man, I love the library.)

Judging from the reaction of the crowd, I wasn’t alone in being wooed by Scott. There was an audible groan when the words “Papa John’s” were uttered, and crows of delight when he revealed a stream of research that hinted that the original Ray’s might well have been in Brooklyn, not Manhattan. I was a little concerned that one peculiar old dude might kidnap Scott just so they discuss the details of oven construction, about which the old dude seemed passionate.

The story of how Scott Wiener became the crowd-pleasing pizza maven he is today turned out to be almost as good as the lecture itself. Continue reading

Dead Man Gnawing: Mexican Cold Ones

I believe that we need more salt-rimmed beverages in our lives.  Or, at least, in my life.  As the salt cures me, it will preserve my liver as well.  This is all about science.

We all know about salt-rimmed margaritas and licking the salt before taking a shot of tequila.  A few years ago, however, I was turned on to micheladas, Mexican beers mixed with various lime-tomato-chili combinations and served on ice in a salt-rimmed glass. My favorite has long been the one served at the incomparable Chevela’s in Prospect Heights.  Their tomato mixture is some kind of spicy bloody mary mix and the salt on the rim is mixed with something tangy.  Shannon speculates dried tamarind.  (Shannon, who loathes tomato juice, loves micheladas; so what does that tell you?) Last night, though, we ate at El Centro in Hell’s Kitchen after watching Alvin Ailey’s dancers kill it, and the micheladas there are simply Modelo Especial mixed with fresh lime and mottled costeño chile, a moderately hot chili used in sauces.  They were fresh and refreshing.  Presented with straws, we sucked them down in minutes.

They got me wondering, though, about the origins of the michelada.  And the wondrous internet provides a handful of different possibilities. Continue reading

Christmas Dinner, Puzzle-Style

GrinchDinnerThe holiday season is a time for feasting on rich delicacies, but just what form those delicacies take varies widely depending on where you’re sitting down to dinner. Below are some traditional Christmas foods; can you use your knowledge of international cuisine and linguistics to match them to the country whence they came? (Note: the meals described might be served on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, according to each culture’s traditions.) If you can guess all ten, consider yourself worthy to pull up a seat at the table anywhere in the world.

  1. Roast pork, potatoes, red cabbage, gravy, Risalamande (rice pudding with cherry or strawberry sauce), Gløgg, high-alcohol beer
  2. Turkey stuffed with ground beef and peanuts and decorated with fresh slices of pineapple and cherries, marzipan, raisins, almonds, hot chocolate
  3. Hamborgarhryggur (ham steak), reindeer, ptarmigan, hangikjöt (smoked lamb)
  4. Svineribbe (seasoned pork belly), sauerkraut, redcurrant sauce, flatbread, shots of akevitt
  5. Roast turkey with stuffing, pigs in blankets, cranberry sauce or redcurrant jelly, roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, parsnips and carrots, plum pudding, mince pies, trifle with brandy butter
  6. Tamales, roast pork leg, torrejas (French toast soaked in dark sugar syrup, cinnamon and cloves), rompopo (eggnog)
  7. 12 dishes to honor the 12 apostles, which can include: stuffed carp, fried carp, herring in wine sauce, herring in cream sauce, fruit compote, pierogi, peas and carrots, sauerkraut, makowiec (poppy seed cake)
  8. Cold meats with cranberry sauce, barbecued prawns or lobster, pavlova (fruit on top of a baked meringue)
  9. Cured leg of pork, queso de bola, pasta, fruit salad, tsokolate (hot cocoa)
  10. Fried carp, Sacher torte, Lebkuchen and sterne (Christmas cookies)
santaAnd the countries…

a. Poland
b. Philippines
c. United Kingdom
d. Honduras
e. Australia
f. Austria
g. Denmark
h. Iceland
i. Peru
j. Norway

Don’t click “continue’ until you’re ready to see the answers! Continue reading