Scientific Backstory On A Holiday Tradition’s Key Material

A recent analysis challenges the hypothesis that songbirds helped with a vital step in mistletoe evolution, the move from the ground to the treetops. Fabrice Cahez/Nature Picture Library/Alamy

Cara Giaimo, as ever providing surprising explanations of natural phenomena, has this biology lesson for a holiday tradition:

How Did Mistletoe Get Into the Treetops?

Before someone hung it up in your home, some animal had to get it into the canopies where it thrives to this day.

It’s unclear what trendsetter first hung up mistletoe. Some blame the ancient Greeks, who kissed under the plants during harvest festivals. Others pin it on first-century druids, who might have decorated their homes with them for good luck. Continue reading

A Classic Dish, A Keeper

Restaurant 51, Xandari Harbour. Photo Credit: Architectural Digest India

The photo to the right shows an interior view of the restaurant we named 51, one of our favorite accomplishments of seven years working in Kerala, India. The painting on the wall shows a traditional onion keeper, and it came to mind when I read these lines in a recipe-essay by Gabrielle Hamilton:

Photograph by Heami Lee. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Rebecca Bartoshesky.

…and, of course, the onion tarts. We were steeped in his cooking and his thinking, and it was an excellent exercise to prepare the dishes of a long-ago iconic restaurant, and to see whether they stood the test of time without becoming museum pieces. Every one, especially the onion tart, was still pitch perfect….

The notion of “not becoming museum pieces” is the evocative part of the essay. Envisioning what 51 should look like, as with the entire exercise of developing Xandari Harbour, we constantly repeated that our goal was to be respectful of history without being a slave to it. By which we meant we wanted the heritage to be clear while also showcasing the new directions of Kerala’s culinary culture. And with all due respect to museums, this was to be a lively eatery.

The recipe-essay stirred another memory, from 1988. We celebrated the second anniversary of our marriage by having dinner at Lutèce. Somewhere in our stored papers is the menu from that evening, signed by André Soltner. Having worked for a chef who inspired me to see a lifetime career in hospitality, this dinner was a perfect mark on the map moving in that direction.

Brewing, Tradition & Innovation

Trucks loaded with hops (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

Outside Magazine offers this primer on the ascendence of one of the key ingredients in one of the oldest fermented beverages:

How Hops Became the Star of American Brewing

The craft beer revolution turned the tall cousin of cannabis into a breakout ingredient, infusing your brew with flavors and aromas that range from stone fruit to barrel oak. Christopher Solomon hits the road to understand why hop madness isn’t over yet—and why brewers and plant breeders are always on the prowl for the next big thing.

Hop harvesting in Washington State’s Yakima Valley (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

The 2019 American Hop Convention, held in January in Monterey, California, was part agriculture conference and part old-home week. Almost all of the nation’s beer hops—and roughly 40 percent of all hops in the world—are grown by about 75 farms in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, many of them owned by families who have farmed hops for four or five generations. At the convention, everybody seemed to know everybody. This gave a loose feel to the proceedings, which recognize and celebrate the fact that only one thing can be done with the crop the conventioneers produce: mix it with malt and water, ferment the liquid, and drink the beer you’ll get after a few weeks. During afternoon coffee breaks, everybody cracked a cold one.

That wasn’t the only reason for the festive mood. The past 15 years have witnessed a spectacular surge in craft brewing in the United States; more than 85 percent of Americans now live within ten miles of a brewery. U.S. beer culture, once a punchline, has become the most vibrant on earth.

Hop bines being loaded into a machine that shakes out the aromatic cones (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

The hop industry has been a beneficiary and driver of this renaissance. Hops once were considered a drab ingredient, tossed in mainly to preserve the beer, thanks to antibacterial properties of the resins found in hop flowers, which are also called cones. Today, hops are the star of American brewing. Continue reading

The Taste of a Place

We may have used this post title before, but it’s a feeling we come back to again and again, especially when talking about foods we love. Coffee, cheese, wine, tea…the  significance of each one resonates with both a sense of culture and place to where quite a few of the contributors to this site have called home.

In the Azores, the Menu Includes Coffee, Tea and Tradition

There’s wine and cheese too, in these remote islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s where to get a taste of the past — and present.

Living on a remote island at the mercy of nature demands resiliency, and the Azores do qualify as remote: nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, 850 miles off the coast of Portugal, their protectorate. The Azores are known for volcanic craters, natural hot springs, 600-foot waterfalls, mountains, cerulean lagoons and dense forests.

But it has not always been idyllic on the islands. Throughout their history, Azoreans have had to overcome disease, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and hurricanes that have decimated their food supply and threatened their economy and survival.

But they are masters of reinvention and ingenuity: They have learned how to cultivate tea and coffee, plants that are not native to the islands but flourish in the temperate climate and mineral-rich volcanic soil. They have also preserved and perfected centuries-old traditions in cheesemaking and wine production to ensure sustainability and safeguard their culture. They proudly share their agrarian heritage with travelers seeking an authentic Azorean experience.

Coffee

I had to walk briskly to keep up with 66-year-old Manuel Nunes. He climbs the hillsides of his coffee farm with the sure-footedness of a ram, easily negotiating the rocky terrain. His muscular fingers are adept at plucking the beans swiftly from their stems. He will dry them in the sun and roast them on his stovetop in a cast iron pan, to sell as beans and to serve as coffee at Café Nunes in Fajã dos Vimes, a village of 70 people on São Jorge Island.

Mr. Nunes’ tiny farm is the largest plantation in Europe, with 700 plants yielding approximately 1,600 pounds of coffee annually — tiny when compared to major coffee-growing countries. The low altitude coupled with high humidity makes this microclimate ideal for growing arabica coffee. There are no insects on the island that destroy the beans so no chemicals are required. The result is a strong cup of Joe without acidity. Mr. Nunes does nearly all the work himself, including the long harvest from May to September.

“It’s what I love to do. It’s my passion. It’s where I belong. I feel well here,” he said (his daughter, Dina Nunes, did the translating)…

Continue reading

Old School Shepherd Knowhow Saves The Day

 

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Natalie holding point as the herd disperses over Bear Basin. Photo © Melanie Elzinga

Thanks to Matt Miller over at Cool Green Science for this one:

Can Ancient Herding Traditions Help Cattle Coexist with Wolves and Sage Grouse?

Reviving Cacao

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Cacao pods ready for harvest at the Loiza Dark Chocolate farm. Courtesy of Loiza Dark Chocolate

Thanks to Dan Charles and his colleagues at the salt, over at National Public Radio (USA) for telling us about that something speaking to Mr. Vizcarrondo; we, working in Belize, working on farm revival among other things, also hear that something and we are inspired to hear of others who hear it too:

The dream of reviving Puerto Rico’s chocolate tradition took root in Juan Carlos Vizcarrondo’s mind years ago.

He’s always been obsessed with flowers and trees. As a boy, he planted so much greenery in his mother’s backyard, there was hardly room to walk.

But in his thirties, he started planting cocoa trees, with their colorful pods full of magical seeds. “Something told me, just keep planting, because nobody has it! It’s so strange, nobody has it!,” he recalls. Continue reading

Sanskrit Scholarship & Mystical Journeys

guru

Our random meeting and conversations with some scholars in southern India led to an exploration of the origins of yoga, which we linked to here.

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Next, using some of the same clues provided by those conversations, we were led to some excellent programming by Smithsonian Channel that includes one of the two scholarly co-authors mentioned in that previous post (see the second book) plus someone you may recognize from another context:

MYSTICAL JOURNEY: KUMBH MELA

West meets East when acclaimed actor Dominic West joins his childhood friend on a pilgrimage to Northern India and the biggest religious festival in the world, Kumbh Mela. Here, 100 million Hindus have gathered to wash away their sins in the holy rivers near Allahabad, on the banks of Sangam. It is also where Dominic’s friend Sir James Mallinson will be initiated into a senior role called a mahant. Follow these friends on this incredible two-week journey, and submerge yourself in the sacred waters and culture of this triennial celebration.

I’ll Just Take The Banjo

RStanley

We have not mentioned the banjo much around here. Shame on that! I am fond of the instrument for some of the same reasons I am fond of, say, an arboretum. The banjo is an instrument akin to other instruments of entrepreneurial conservation: the more it gets played well, the more it keeps alive a tradition, and even can improve on the tradition. An arboretum, well conceived, well kept, helps species survive in isolation that might otherwise have been lost from the planet entirely.

I see a reference here and there, for example mention of the Seeger family, who I have loved for many reasons my whole life. And Bela Fleck is Exhibit A in the case to be made for the banjo entrepreneurship; Steve Martin and Edie Brickell could be said to support that case as well. They all would acknowledge Dr. Ralph Stanley as essential to their craft’s survival and thriving, so it is with that in mind that I highly recommend you listen to or read this brief interview with him:

…GROSS: How did you get your first banjo?

STANLEY: My first banjo? My mother’s sister, my aunt, lived about a mile from where we did, and she raised some hogs. And she had – her – the hog – the mother – they called the mother a sow – of a hog. And she had some pigs. Well, the pigs were real pretty, and I was going to high school and I was taking agriculture in school. And I sort of got a notion that I’d like to do that, raise some hogs. And so my aunt had this old banjo, and my mother told me, said, which do you want, the pig or a banjo? And each one of them’s $5 each. I said, I’ll just take the banjo…

Continue reading

Christmas Tree Facts From the BBC

Credit: Larry Michael / NPL. Via the BBC

Although Organikos is a non-denominational blog, there is no doubt that Christmas is an important holiday in many of the places we work, like Kerala and Costa Rica. This year, Stephanie Pappas from the BBC shares some interesting secrets about Christmas trees that you probably didn’t know, and can read below:

Each Christmas, families gather around evergreens, real or fake, to celebrate the season.

But what holiday revellers may not realise is just how incredible these spruce, fir and pines can be.

In the wild, evergreen conifers survive drastic temperature swings, grow to towering heights and create ecosystems that shelter strange and wonderful creatures.

Here are some the secrets of Christmas trees and their tough, tenacious lives.

Christmas trees can turn to glass

Here’s a party trick not to try without the proper safety equipment: drop a sprig of Siberian spruce (Picea obovata) or Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) in a vat of liquid nitrogen, at a temperature of -196 degrees Celsius. Providing you’ve pre-chilled the plant to -20 degrees Celsius or so, the sprig will survive.

Continue reading

Dwajasthambam – Temple Flag Pole

Photo credit : Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo credit: Ramesh Kidangoor

Dwajasthambam is the traditional Hindu temple flag pole placed between the temple gopuram (entrance) and the sanctum sanctorum. They are traditionally made of wood, copper sheets, and gold coating. A cloth flag with Hindus symbols, holy words and figures of Gods or Goddess is usually hoisted on the pole during temple festivals. Continue reading

Traditional Ironing Box

Photo credit : Dileep

Photo credit: Dileep

 

Charcoal ironing boxes were heated with smoldering coals that were taken from a fire and placed inside a box on the top of the iron. The lid of the box had a handle, which allowed people to hold the hot iron as they ran it over clothing, smoothing out wrinkles. In Kerala the box was traditionally made of bronze.

Continue reading

Kolam – Tamil Nadu

Photo credits : Renuka Menon

Photo credits: Renuka Menon

Kolam is a traditional form of street painting in Tamil Nadu that is created using colored rice powder. The designs are based on simple elements such as loops, dots and geometric patterns. Women create these auspicious patterns in front of the household deities in Pooja rooms and the area just outside the entrance of their houses.

Continue reading

Chingam

Photo credits : Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo credits : Ramesh Kidangoor

Chingam is the first month of the Malayalam calendar.  New Year’s Day 1189, or Chingam 1st,  fell on August 17, 2013  and marks the beginning of Chingamasam.  This auspicious day is welcomed by people of Kerala with special poojas and prayers.  In the early morning Hindus  in large numbers visit their nearby temples. The Onam festival is celebrated in this month. Continue reading