Thursday, February 26, 2015

Holidays and Observances for Feb 26 2015

Levi Strauss Day

February 26,1829, was the day Levi Strauss, pioneer of blue jeans and founder of the company that still bears his name, was born. Although Levi's jeans were long seen as the quintessential American article of clothing, Loeb Strauss (his given name) was a Bavarian-born Jew from the town of Buttenheim, who arrived in the United States with his family only in 1845. His father, Hirsch Strauss, had died two years earlier, and his mother, Rebecca Haas Strauss (Hirsch’s second wife), sailed with her younger children and stepchildren to join two of the older sons, who had already set up a dry-goods business in New York.

By January 1853, 23-year-old Levi headed west to San Francisco, to seek his fortune by opening a branch of the family business to sell clothing and accessories to the California Gold Rushers. In 1872, one of his clients, Jacob Davis, a Reno, Nevada, tailor, sent Strauss a letter, describing how he used copper rivets to strengthen the stress points of the work pants that he fashioned out of fabric bought from the Californian. Davis suggested that the two seek a patent for the riveting method – a patent that was granted on May 20, 1873. The rivets were fastened at the corners of the pockets and the base of the fly.

By then, Levi Strauss was already an established member of San Francisco society, active in the city’s first synagogue, Congregation Emanu-El, and other institutions. Davis joined him in California, where he oversaw the tailor shop Strauss established for the production of the “XX” model of “waist overalls,” as these trousers were then called. (In 1890, the year the firm became incorporated, it also replaced “XX” with “501,” arguably the brand's most popular style that is still sold today.) The cotton denim itself was originally produced by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, of Manchester, New Hampshire.

Until the 1920s, Levi’s jeans were sold mainly in the West, and served for the most part as work clothes. Soon after, they started making their way east, mainly with vacationers who had encountered them at dude ranches they had visited. In World War II, they became an item rationed to defense workers, and to conserve thread, the company was forbidden from applying the decorative double arch stitching on the rear pockets of the jeans, which had by then become something of a trademark. (They had the arches painted onto the pockets for the duration of the war.)

As for the company’s founder – Levi Strauss died on September 26, 1902. Because he had never married and did not have a family of his own, Strauss left his business and estate to his four nephews, the children of his sister Fanny and her husband, David Stern. That estate was valued at $6 million, or some $160 million in 2013 terms. In addition to what he bequeathed to family members, he also bestowed gifts on the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum, the Home for Aged Israelites, the Roman Catholic and Protestant Orphan Asylums and the Emanu-El Sisterhood, among other beneficiaries.

By 2010, Levi Strauss & Co., which had gone from being family-owned to being publicly shared, was once again a private company, controlled by relatives of Levi Strauss’ nephews. The firm employed more than 16,000 people worldwide, and raked in $4.4 billion in revenues.

National Chili Day

Today is National Chili Day! Whether you prefer it Texas-style, Mexican-style, or vegetarian, chili served with a side of cornbread is a fabulous comfort food for the winter season.

When it comes to the story of chili, tales and myths abound. 

While many food historians agree that chili con carne is an American dish with Mexican roots, Mexicans are said to indignantly deny any association with the dish. 

Enthusiasts of chili say one possible though far-fetched starting point comes from Sister Mary of Agreda, a Spanish nun in the early 1600s who never left her convent yet had out-of-body experiences in which her spirit was transported across the Atlantic to preach Christianity to the Indians. After one of the return trips, her spirit wrote down the first recipe for chili con carne: chili peppers, venison, onions, and tomatoes.

Another yarn goes that Canary Islanders who made their way to San Antonio as early as 1723, used local peppers and wild onions combined with various meats to create early chili combinations.

Most historians agree that the earliest written description of chili came from J.C. Clopper, who lived near Houston. While his description never mentions the word chili this is what he wrote of his visit to San Antonio in 1828:  "When they [poor families of San Antonio] have to lay for their meat in the market, a very little is made to suffice for the family; it is generally cut into a kind of hash with nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat--this is all stewed together.”  

In the 1880s, a market in San Antonio started setting up chili stands from which chili or bowls o'red, as it was called, were sold by women who were called "chili queens." A bowl o'red cost diners such as writer O. Henry and democratic presidential hopeful William Jennings Bryan ten cents and included bread and a glass of water. The fame of chili con carne began to spread and the dish soon became a major tourist attraction. It was featured at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 at the San Antonio Chili Stand.

By the 20th century chili joints had made their debut in Texas and became familiar all over the west by the roaring ‘20s. In fact, by the end of that decade, there was hardly a town that didn't have a chili parlour, which were often no more than a shed or a room with a counter and some stools. It’s been said that chili joints meant the difference between starvation and staying alive during the Great Depression since chili was cheap and crackers were free. 

Chili & The President
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson was a big chili lover. His favorite recipe became known as Pedernales River chili after the location of his Texas ranch. Johnson preferred venison, which is leaner to beef, probably due to doctor’s orders about his bad heart. Lady Bird Johnson, the First lady, had the recipe printed on cards to be mailed out because of the many thousands of requests the White House received for it.

"Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing,” Johnson is quoted as saying. “One of the first things I do when I get home to Texas is to have a bowl of red. There is simply nothing better.” 

In 1977, chili manufacturers in the state of Texas successfully lobbied the state legislature to have chili proclaimed the official "state food" of Texas “in recognition of the fact that the only real 'bowl of red' is that prepared by Texans.”

According to legend, Spanish priests called the first chili “the soup of the Devil” because they believed that chili peppers were an aphrodisiac. To celebrate National Chili Day, indulge in a delicious bowl of this historical spicy stew!

National For Pete's Sake Day

If you happen to be a certain age, chances are pretty good you have heard or even uttered the phrase, "for Pete's sake." One day a year is actually dedicated to that once-common phrase. February 26 is For Pete's Sake Day! This annual "holiday" was created by the folks at Wellcat and is listed on Chase's Calendar of Events.

The phrase was commonly used as a substitute for the more offensive phrase, "for God's sake" or "for Christ's sake" and was said when someone was surprised, annoyed, frustrated or irritated. In medieval times, that was considered blasphemous. And in case you are wondering who the heck Pete is, you aren't alone. While some believe Pete may refer to the Apostle Peter, others suggest the phrase evolved from older phrases, "for the love of Mike" or "for pity's sake."

By the early 1900’s this expression became commonly used when annoyed, angry, frustrated or disappointed in something. for Pete's sake grumpy catLook at any Grumpy Cat photo and you can imagine them thinking, for Pete’s sake.

Personally, I don't think I've ever used it, and I rarely hear it anymore, but apparently it isn't unknown to the rap world. It is a lyric in a song called Power Trip by J. Cole: “For Pete’s sake, homie, pull it together.”  And it was the title of a Barbra Streisand movie.

The Graveyard of Obsolete Idioms

Perhaps it will soon be time for for Pete’s sake to be relegated to The Graveyard of Obsolete Idioms, where it would accompany fossils like these:

  • Run roughshod  (to treat someone harshly. In the 17th century, a “rough-shod” horse had its shoes attached with protruding nail heads in order to get a better grip on slippery roads.)
  • A day late and a dollar short (who is ever short just a dollar these days?)
  • Too big for your britches (replace with too big for your straight-leg jeans?)
  • Close but no cigar (when was the last time you saw an unfrowned-upon cigar?)
  • Go fly a kite (replaced by a more vulgar directive)
  • If I had a nickel for every time .. (with inflation, that would have to be, what, about $10?)
  • John Q. Public (who is he?)
  • Mad as a hornet (now we say p-o’ed)
  • Mind your own beeswax 
  • Cry uncle
  • When pigs fly

I wonder how many of those expressions my adult children have heard. Also, what expressions used today will be considered archaic by the next generation?

If this is all Greek to you, I must be beating a dead horse. Happy National For Pete’s Sake Day!

National Pistachio Day

Get crackin'! February 26 is National Pistachio Day.

It’s not every day that a simple nut has its own dedicated advertising campaign, and a cheeky one at that, but the humble pistachio is more than deserving.

Pistachios require a little elbow grease to eat because the greenish edible seed is encased in a harder outer shell that you have to crack open. There are many tips on how to do this, some more practical than others. The least labor intensive way is to simply wait. Pistachio shells will open easily if they’re fully ripe. The same effect is achieved by roasting.

If the nut doesn’t yield from its shell easily, you can always use half of a shell from an already cracked nut to help. The half shell acts as a lever; insert it into the opening of the whole, unopened nut and twist. This should release the pistachio from its shell.

Hard to believe, but it wasn’t until 1976 that Americans harvested the first commercial crop of pistachios. They had been enjoying the nut since about the 1800s, but it was not until the 1930s that the love for pistachios really took off.

What may have made the little tree nut so admired, though, is the invention of pistachio ice cream in the 1940s by James W. Parkinson of Philadelphia.

Today, California produces 300 million pounds of pistachios, which is about 98 percent of the domestic crop. Other world producers include Turkey, Syria, Italy and Greece.

Remember getting that red dye all over your fingers back in the day when pistachios were dyed crimson? Hard to imagine now but the apparent reason for the colouring was to hide flaws on the shell and to make them stand out in vending machines!

Related botanically to cashews and mangoes, pistachios are one of the oldest flowering nut trees, and are one of the only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.

Native to western Asia and Asia Minor, the trees grew wild in high desert regions and legend has it that for the promise of good fortune lovers met beneath the trees to hear the pistachios crack open on moonlit nights.

Thanks to their high nutritional value and long storage life, pistachios were an indispensable form of sustenance among early explorers and traders, including travellers across the ancient Silk Road that connected China with the West.

In the first century A.D., Emperor Vitellius introduced Rome to the pistachio. Apicius, Rome's Julia Child of the time, included pistachios in his classical cookbook.

Perhaps a true royal nut, the Queen of Sheba loved pistachios. In fact, she demanded that the entire region’s pistachio harvest be set aside for her.

These heart-healthy tree nuts are good for your ticker thanks to phytosterols, which pistachios have in droves. Another reason to love pistachios is that they comprise about 90 per cent unsaturated fat, which is the good kind of fat that adds flavour and makes them a highly satisfying snack. They also contain many antioxidants which aid the heart and body. An awesome source of dietary fibre, they are among the highest fibre nuts, providing 12 percent of the daily value per 30 gram serving.

In Iran, pistachios are known as the smiling nut.  In China, they are called the happy nut. Pistachios are also known as the green almond.

Pistachios have always been on the pricier end of the nut scale, costing three or four times as much as other nuts. Generally eaten roasted and salted as a dessert nut, the pistachio is often used in cooking as a garnish or decoration in sweet and savoury dishes.

According to Larousse Gastronomique, in Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, pistachios are used in poultry sauces and stuffings and also in hash. In classic cuisine they garnish galantines, brawn (head cheese) and mortadella. In India, pistachio puree is used to season rice and vegetables. Pistachios go best with veal, pork and poultry. Their green color makes them popular for creams and for ice creams and ice-cream desserts. In confectionery, it is especially associated with nougat.

China is the top pistachio consumer worldwide, with annual consumption of 80,000 tons, while the United States consumes 45,000 tons. Russia follows with consumption of 15,000 tons followed by India at 10,000 tons.

Pistachios ripen in late summer or early fall growing so energetically that the kernel splits the shell. These trees are wind pollinated which means one male tree can produce enough pollen for 25 nut-bearing female trees. Female trees produce their first nuts at age five and can bear fruit for up to 200 years.

One of the earliest desserts made with pistachios was baklava. This Middle Eastern pastry often features a nutty component, such as roasted pistachios. Making baklava at home can be time-consuming and sticky (so props to you if you give it a go!). Here’s a quick cheat version:

Mix chopped, roasted pistachios with some honey and cinnamon. You want the mixture to be thick, not runny. (Orange blossom honey works great here.) Then, lay one sheet of store-bought phyllo dough on a flat work surface and brush it with melted butter. Add a second layer of dough, and cut it into 3-inch squares. Lightly brush a large muffin tin with melted butter and lay a square into each opening. Spoon in the pistachio syrup and bring the sides of the dough up around it. Pinch the edges closed so you've got a little parcel. Brush the tops of the parcels with more melted butter and bake in a preheated 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven until the phyllo dough browns. This will take about 10-12 minutes.

National Tell A Fairy Tale Day

National Tell A Fairy Tale Day, an “unofficial” National holiday is celebrated on February 26th.  Snuggle up in your corner chair or sofa with the children sitting near you or maybe all gather around a campfire as it is a day to celebrate by telling your favorite fairy tale or making up one of your own.

Originally, adults were the audience of a fairy tale just as often as children. Literary fairy tales appeared in works intended for adults, but in the 19th and 20th centuries the fairy tale became associated with children’s literature.

A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features folkloric fantasy characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants, mermaids, or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. Fairy tales may be distinguished from other folk narratives such as legends (which generally involve belief in the veracity of the events described) and explicitly moral tales, including beast fables.

In less technical contexts, the term is also used to describe something blessed with unusual happiness, as in “fairy tale ending” (a happy ending) or “fairy tale romance” (though not all fairy tales end happily). Colloquially, a “fairy tale” or “fairy story” can also mean any farfetched story or tall tale; it’s used especially of any story that not only isn't true, but couldn’t possibly be true.

In cultures where demons and witches are perceived as real, fairy tales may merge into legends, where the narrative is perceived both by teller and hearers as being grounded in historical truth. However, unlike legends and epics, they usually do not contain more than superficial references to religion and actual places, people, and events; they take place once upon a time rather than in actual times.

Fairy tales are found in oral and in literary form. The history of the fairy tale is particularly difficult to trace because only the literary forms can survive. Still, the evidence of literary works at least indicates that fairy tales have existed for thousands of years, although not perhaps recognized as a genre; the name “fairy tale” was first ascribed to them by Madame d’Aulnoy in the late 17th century. Many of today’s fairy tales have evolved from centuries-old stories that have appeared, with variations, in multiple cultures around the world. Fairy tales, and works derived from fairy tales, are still written today.

The older fairy tales were intended for an audience of adults, as well as children, but they were associated with children as early as the writings of the pr├ęcieuses; the Brothers Grimm titled their collection Children’s and Household Tales, and the link with children has only grown stronger with time.

Folklorists have classified fairy tales in various ways. The Aarne-Thompson classification system and the morphological analysis of Vladimir Propp are among the most notable. Other folklorists have interpreted the tales’ significance, but no school has been definitively established for the meaning of the tales.