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“Life is like an ice cream; enjoy it before it melts.”
– Unknown

 

July is National Ice Cream Month, so designated by President Ronald Reagan back in 1984. At the same time, he also declared that the third Sunday in July would thereafter be known as National Ice Cream Day.

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In anticipation of the national premiere of WTTW’s new special and website, Weekend in Havana with Geoffrey Baer, we thought we would provide a quick overview of Cuba’s mouthwatering cuisine, which goes perfectly with a generous side of salsa music, a refreshing cocktail, and (of course) a good cigar.

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“Any month whose name contains the letters A, E, or U is the proper time for chocolate.”
— Sandra Boynton

 

 “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
— Peanuts creator Charles Schulz

 

 “What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.”
— Katharine Hepburn

 

Today, July 7, is International Chocolate Day, an occasion (all right…an excuse!) for lots of chocolate-fueled celebrations around the world! Dark, milk, bittersweet, combined with other entities such as nuts, toffee, caramel, fruits, nougats, peanut butter, mint; in baked goods, beverages, spreads, ice cream; fillings, coatings, infusions…so many options, too little time!

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You have surely heard the phrase “as American as apple pie.” Well, that’s a misnomer, as it turns out that this quintessentially American dessert really originated in Great Britain. Hamburgers and hot dogs? Germany – or to be more specific, Hamburg and Frankfurt, respectively. Mac 'n' Cheese? Italy (or France). French fries? Not France at all, but Belgium.

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Beginning with the first sighting of the crescent moon this past Saturday evening, Muslims all over the world celebrated the end of the holy month of Ramadan and commence the month of Shawwal in this Islamic year of 1438 by embarking on the three-day Eid al-Fitr, or “Festival of Breaking of the Fast.” After a month of forgoing all food and drink each day between the early morning meal (Sahoor) and the evening repast (Iftar), the elaborate feast that is central to this important religious observance is a welcome and happy event that signifies “the mercy of God.” (In addition to sharing a delicious meal of halal foods, Muslims are encouraged to “forgive and forget” any differences they may have had with others during the previous year.)

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“If you were to sum up Jiro’s sushi in a nutshell: ultimate simplicity leads to purity.”
– Yamamoto (Japanese food writer)

 

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”
  – Anthony Bourdain, opining on his last words

 

Chef, TV personality, and author Anthony Bourdain has traveled all over the world, sampling with gusto the cuisine wherever he goes. When asked by The Guardian to choose “the final meal of his dreams,” Bourdain didn’t hesitate: “A sushi blowout,” he replied, with lots of “rare and expensive sakes.” After that, he continued, “he could die satisfied, confident that ‘no one on Earth had eaten better than [him].’” His sushi restaurant of choice? Tokyo’s Sukiyabashi Jiro – a three Michelin-starred “underground” eatery in Tokyo run by 91-year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many the world’s greatest sushi chef and the subject of the acclaimed 2011 PBS documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

 

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Russia, in terms of sheer area, is the largest country in the world — it stretches across 11 time zones and borders 14 countries (many of which were formerly part of the Soviet Union). Each year on June 12, its citizens observe Russia Day, a celebration that in scope and feel is similar to American Independence Day, Canada Day, King Day in the Netherlands, and so forth. Russia Day is characterized by fireworks, parades, flag-waving and marching bands, entertainment and special events, and the bestowing of State Awards on prominent humanitarians, scientists, literary figures, and others. What foods might be served at such a celebration, and what do Russians enjoy on an everyday basis?

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Unless you’re lactose-intolerant, the chances are that you like cheese. And when better to enjoy it than during a week when we celebrate National Cheese Day? Nobody can agree on when, how, or why this great excuse for indulging in Cheddar, Swiss, and Gouda came about, but the farmers of America’s Dairyland, our neighbors to the north in Wisconsin, are probably not complaining.

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“Hamburgers, hamburgers, hamburgers hot; onions in the middle, pickle on top. Makes your lips go flippity flop.”

–Hamburger Charlie, food cart proprietor, 1885

 

“[The] man who invented the hamburger was smart; [the] man who invented the cheeseburger was a genius.”

–Matthew McConaughey, actor

 

In case you didn’t know, there is an important annual observance in late May: International Hamburger Day. What better excuse, as you fire up the backyard grill this summer, to look back at the delicious history of a culinary creation that is currently the most popular fast food item in America?

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This week, the annual National Day of Norway (Nasjonaldagen) commemorates the anniversary of the country’s adoption of its constitution in 1814; the locals refer to it simply as syttende mai (literally, May seventeenth — much like Americans have labeled our July fourth holiday, for a similar reason). The public observances attached to this occasion generally center on activities for children (parades, flags, marching bands), but syttende mai also provides a great excuse to take a closer look at the cuisine of a country that is ranked #1 in this year’s World Happiness Report, earning the highest marks in each category of “caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income, and good governance.”

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May is National Egg Month, so it’s the perfect time to reflect on the long history and many applications of what is surely one of the world’s oldest foods, an incredibly versatile protein source, starting with the obvious question:

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May 5 is the day to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, which marks the date of the 1862 victory of the Mexican Army over French forces at the Battle of Puebla. This holiday is not to be confused with Mexican Independence Day which is observed in September — Cinco de Mayo is more about Mexican culture. Which makes Cinco de Mayo the perfect opportunity to get your Mexican on and indulge in some of your favorite dishes (and those all-important margaritas). Most everyone is familiar with the main dishes — tacos, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, etc., but here are a few of the most popular Mexican appetizers and where they came from…

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Each year during the final week of April, the citizens of the Netherlands observe a festive national holiday: Koningsdag (King's Day), in which they pay tribute to their reigning monarch – currently, King Willem-Alexander. This year, to mark the King’s 50th birthday, he and Queen Maxima are hosting a special dinner and photo op for 150 somewhat-randomly-selected “commoner” guests at the royal palace. Entrants could win a chance to hobnob with royalty if they meet one or more of the following eligibility requirements:

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“A man's social rank is determined by the amount of bread he eats in a sandwich.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

 

April, in case you didn’t know, is National Grilled Cheese Month. In light of that, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on the history, popularity, and seemingly infinite possibilities of the sandwich (including the grilled cheese).

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Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns! 
One a penny, two a penny, 
Hot cross buns! 
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons; 
One a penny, two a penny, 
Hot cross buns!
– Mother Goose

 

The word “Easter” is said to have been coined from Eostre, who was the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the spring and sunrise (we call the direction of the sunrise “east” because of her). Just the name conjures up images of brightly colored eggs being hunted on green lawns by children in their Sunday best; decorated baskets of jelly beans, chocolate rabbits, and marshmallow chicks; gardens blooming with daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips; and sumptuous pastel-hued repasts with family and friends. A celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, Easter is a joyous day that for Christians (and some non-Christians, too) represents rejuvenation and rebirth (and perhaps also the arrival of spring), and the traditional foods connected with this religious holiday are highly symbolic. Here are a few, and some possible origins and meanings…

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