Tuesday, March 5, 2024




Baker's Dozen

The phrase baker's dozen can be traced to England in the 13th century.

In medieval England, bread was a basic staple of the populace, and in the 1260s, King Henry III enacted a law that controlled the size and cost of a loaf. One popular story to explain the baker’s dozen says that bakers would add an extra loaf to a lot of 12 in order to avoid the stiff penalties for selling underweight bread to customers.

However, food historians have pointed out that there’s little evidence for this explanation. Further, buying 12 loaves of bread at a time would have been an awful lot for a medieval peasant.

Instead, the phrase seems more likely to come from transactions with bread middlemen, known as “hucksters,” who would buy bread from bakeries and then roam the streets hawking their carb-heavy wares. Since the law controlled how much the baker charged a retailer and how much the retailer could charge the customer, there wasn’t a way for the retailer to make a profit, so a 13th loaf—sometimes called the in-bread or the vantage loaf—was thrown in as a freebie so the retailer could make some money. It made sense for bakers to incentivize street peddlers with this free loaf; they could move a lot more product through roaming retailers than if they had to sell all the bread themselves.


When Spaniards landed in the New World, they observed Indigenous people using raised, wooden frames to cook their meat and fish. The apparatuses could be placed directly on a heat source, the way we grill ,meat and seafood today, or they could be propped near a fire and heated indirectly, similarly to how barbecue pitmasters slow-cook their meat.

The word for these tools was barbacoa, according to a Spanish account recorded in 1526. This became barbecue in English, and at some point, a Q got thrown in the mix.

Some sources suggest the Q comes to us from the French phrase barbe à queue, or “beard to tail,” a nod to a whole animal being cooked, but this explanation is probably more folklore than fact.

A preoccupied vegan named Hugh
Picked up the wrong sandwich to chew.
He took a big bite
before spitting, in fright,

Al Dente

The phrase al dente literally translates from Italian to mean “to the tooth.” It describes the texture of cooked pasta when it’s tender but firm and chewy when you bite into it. If your pasta is

By the way, throwing spaghetti at a wall to see if it’s done doesn’t actually work. Overcooked pasta and al dente pasta can both be sticky enough to adhere to surfaces, so the trick isn't useful for timing your pasta. Do a taste test instead.

Pasta alla carbonara

The names of some Italian pasta dishes tell you more about the dishes’ origin stories than their ingredients.

Pasta alla carbonara translates to something like pasta “in the manner of charcoal makers.”

According to legend, workers first made the dish over campfires to fuel their long days.

Consisting of eggs, cured pork, and pasta, carbonara makes sense as a low-maintenance, high-energy, working-class lunch.

However there’s no way to confirm the validity of this explanation. The name carbonara could be a reference to the charcoal fire the dish was prepared over rather than the people who made it, or to the generous gratings of pepper placed on top, which might have looked like coal dust.

Some believe that pasta carbonara originated with the carbonari, a 19th-century secret society of Italian revolutionaries.


Beef or fish that’s prepared carpaccio style—a.k.a. raw and thinly sliced—is named after Italian Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio.

He wasn’t the person who invented it, however. Venetian restaurateur Giuseppe Cipriani first served the dish to Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo after she had been instructed by her doctor to abstain from eating cooked meat. The sight of it inspired romantic feelings in Cipriani. Upon noticing the red color of the dish, he named it after Carpaccio, who used similar shades in his artwork.


Tandoori chicken is named after the cylindrical, charcoal-fired clay oven it's cooked in.

In modern-day Pakistan, archaeologists unearthed 5000-year-old clay vessels similar to tandoors along with charred chicken bones. This may technically be the scraps of an early tandoori chicken dinner, but it would take thousands of years before the dish became what people know today.

The details are somewhat disputed, but the most popular story goes that in the 1930s, a restaurant called Moti Mahal opened up in Peshawar, modern Pakistan. After the Partition of India, a new version of the restaurant opened up in India, bringing the dish to widespread popularity.

In the early 1960s, first lady Jackie Kennedy was served tandoori chicken on a flight from Rome to New Delhi, and today you can order tandoori chicken in restaurants around the world.

The success of the dish spurred many variations, including chicken tikka masala.


I kid you not, this is a real restaurant name:

The name of the restaurant is actually Nagina Tandoori Indian Cuisine, which is in Dublin Ireland, however, unfortunately for the restaurant owners, the N in Nagina had an accident and the restaurant has since been known for its quirky new name.

Sunday, March 3, 2024




From the vault:

Why a leap year?

It takes the earth about 365.25 days to go around the sun. To be more precise, it takes 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds. This means that every 4 years the calendar will be one day out. To stop that happening a year is added each fourth year to counteract the difference between the calendar year and the astronomic year. This method of fixing the problem was first imposed by Julius Caesar in 45 BC.

So a day is added every February 29, easy peasy.

Well, that’s not all. The extra day every four years doesn’t exactly equal the 6 hours x 4, there is also the matter of the missing 11 minutes x 4 when rounding up. After 128 years, that 11 minute difference will equal a full day that the calendar is out, 3 days each 400 years, but this time in the other direction. The adjustment of one extra day each 4 years counteracts the additional 6 hours but the rounded off 11 minutes needs to come off. Enter Pope Gregory in 1582 with his Gregorian Calendar. Dispensing with the Julian Calendar, he decided that every 100 years there would not be a leap year. Therefore 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years, to allow for the missing 11 minutes added by rounding up.

Okay, I can understand that, but then why was 2000 a leap year?

There are also the 14 seconds that are added each year for which allowance must be made. As noted above, every 100 years there is no leap year. However, to adjust for the seconds, every 400 years is a leap year. Therefore 2000 was a leap year, as was 1600.

And so that’s it. A bit complicated but I think I understand it. Thanks for explaining it, I’ll be off now.

Err, well, there is one other thing. To fine tune it even more, every 4000 years the century years will not be leap years. Therefore 4,000, 8,000 etc will not be leap years.

If all that’s too much, use this guide:

To sum up:
  • Every year divisible by 4 is a leap year
  • EXCEPT the last year of each century, such as 1900, which is NOT a leap year . . .
  • EXCEPT when the number of the century is a multiple of 4, such as 2000, which IS a leap year
  • EXCEPT the year 4000 and its later multiples (8000, 12000, etc) which are NOT leap years.

Some vintage leap year cards: