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.
“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?
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.”
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…
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:
“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).
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…
If it were possible to sum up the cuisine of India in one word, that word would probably be diversity. This vast country boasts so many variations in vegetation, climate, culture, religion, ethnicity, and influence that it’s difficult to classify its food in a specific way. And judging from the wide variety of innovative Indian fusions, including those with elements of China, Malaysia, Singapore, and England (from the time of the British Raj), that are now available here in Chicago and elsewhere, it’s clear that it is still evolving today.
"Standing there an hour alone I dreamt that Greece might once be free."
– Lord Byron
The people of Greece, along with their beautiful scenery and pleasantly temperate climate, enjoy one more distinction: each year in March, they mark a unique dual holiday that is celebrated by both the deeply religious and the happily patriotic.
May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.
– Traditional Irish toast
“Oh, wasn’t it the happy days when troubles we had not,
And our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot.”
– “Colcannon” (song)
Anyone who lives in Chicago must surely be aware that the city takes its St. Patrick’s Day celebrations very seriously. Between the annual Loop, South Side, and Northwest Side parades, the (temporary) emerald green hue of the Chicago River, and the throngs of happy, shamrock-bedecked revelers filling the Irish pubs, restaurants, and taverns around town, there is something for everyone who claims Irish heritage (if only just for the day).
“I love coffee…I love tea,
I love the Java Jive and it loves me.
Coffee and tea and the Java and me,
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup…boy!”
– “Java Jive,” The Ink Spots, 1940
“Pace the floor, stop and stare,
I drink a cup of coffee and start pulling out my hair.
I’m drinking forty cups of coffee,
Forty cups of coffee,
Forty cups of coffee, waiting for you to come home…”
– “Forty Cups of Coffee,” Ella Mae Morse, 1953
A Bloomberg study conducted in mid-2016 estimated that before the year ended, Americans would consume, on average, 6.8 pounds (yes, pounds!) of hot coffee per person. If you are one of those “java junkies” (and you know who you are) who are on a first-name basis with your local barista, you might be wondering where this popular brew came from, and how it got to be so omnipresent. While you’re standing in line waiting for that grande skim latte with extra foam, let’s take a look back…
The thousands of revelers who take part in Mardi Gras celebrations no doubt enjoy many of the traditional Creole and Cajun dishes that go with it, either as diners in some of New Orleans’s justly famous eateries, or here in Chicago. To those of us who are not native to Louisiana, Creole and Cajun foods are often lumped together as they share a number of commonalities. But how do these two cuisines differ? How and where did they originate?
Hey there! A question I get all the time is what to bring to various BYO places so I enlisted the help of my friend and award-winning sommelier Liz Mendez, co-owner of Vera (not BYO) in the West Loop which serves up sophisticated Spanish cuisine by her husband and chef/co-owner Mark Mendez complemented by her well-curated wine list with an impressive sherry selection. Liz shares pairings with everything from Japanese to pizza as well as giving a wonderfully informative, yet succinct, guide to sherry. Here’s what she had to say.
Not long ago, Chicago was home to more citizens of Polish descent than Warsaw, attracted here beginning in the mid-19th century by the city’s booming industries and opportunities for independence and growth. The Polish community is still one of Chicago’s largest and most prominent, at last count making up just over seven percent of the population. The number of Polish speakers in the area is second only to English and Spanish, and Poland’s cultural presence in the city is remarkably strong and vibrant, through its many festivals, churches, and museum.