Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Trivia for those who will not be dining in a romantic venue this evening

So, I am not going out tonight, as my Valentine is traveling for work (again). So there will be no foodie posts about what I ate or where I ate it, about wine or roses or champagne or chocolate or Louis Armstrong tunes that make you swoon.  We are doing none of that today, so I have nothing to say on the matter. I'm sorry. Though I imagine anyone who does have lovers plans is probably out by now at some romantic venue sipping champagne by candlelight over a gorgeous aphrodisiac prixe fix and gazing lovingly into their mates eyes and therefore won't read this or be soured by it.

I'm not anti-Valentine's Day.  In fact, I'm kind of a mush for it.  Today is just not the day over here. We will probably eat like college kids and watch the Food Network.  Girls' Night In.

I did buy my beautiful nine year old a puffy heart charm for her Pandora bracelet (at Gloucester's wonderful Village Silversmith, of course). It reads,'Yo" on one side and "Tu" on the other - I <3 you en Espanol. Seemsappropriate given how much time this child spends on foreign islands and in foreign countries. Plus, I mentioned I'm a word nerd, and I <3 interjecting our native tongue with pretty palabras whenever possible.

But it is that day and I should write about it in some way (I'm being cranky - we have fabulous plans for the weekend - I'm prone to drama, is all). So I thought I'd give my beer-drinking friends some trivia to play while they sit with singles coldly shunning the lover's holiday.  I recommend turning it into a drinking game - with shots for wrong answers.  Or better yet, a strip poker spin. Could resolve your singleness for the 2014 event. Just a suggestion. Dad, don't read this part.

A Little Valentine's Day Trivia - borrowed from all over the web

Approximately how many boxes of chocolate were sold for St. Valentine's Day in 2003?
36 million. This figure comes from the Chocolate Manufacturer's Association.

One legend of St. Valentine contends that he was a priest in third century Rome. The Emperor outlawed marriage because single men made better warriors. Valentine, however, continued to perform marriages in secret. When the Emperor discovered what Valentine was doing he ordered that Valentine be put to death. Who was the Emperor?
Claudius II. Claudius II died of the plague not long after the death of Valentine. He is one of the few Roman emperors to die a "natural" death.

Others claim that the Christian church decided to celebrate the feast of Valentine in an effort to 'christianize' the celebrants of a pagan festival that was held in mid-February. What was the pagan festival?
Lupercalia. Lupercalia was considered a purification and fertility rite.

The oldest known valentine that is still in existence today was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife. Where was Charles when he penned this valentine?
In the Tower of London. The greeting is now located in the British Library in London.

Approximately what percentage of Valentine's Day cards are purchased by women?
85. This is according to the Greeting Card Association.

Approximately how many Valentine's Day cards are sent each year?
1 billion. Valentine's Day is the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. Christmas is first with approximately 2.6 billion cards sent.

Cupid is whose son?

Venus. Venus was the Goddess of Love and Beauty.

In what Shakespeare play is St. Valentine's Day mentioned?

Hamlet. Ophelia sings, "Good morrow! 'Tis St. Valentine's Day; All in the morning betime; And I a maid at your window,; To be your valentine!"

What three percent of pet owners give Valentine's Day gifts to their pets?

What percentage of all Valentine's Day cards are accompanied by gifts?
Approximately one-third 
In a poll of American women,which was the preferred Valentine's day gift - chocolate or flowers?

Which group of professionals receive the most Valentine's Day Cards?
Teachers will receive the most Valentine's Day cards, followed by children, mothers, wives, and sweethearts.

Which holiday sees the largest exchange of holiday cards - Valentine's Day or Christmas?
Christmas. About one billion Valentine's Day cards are exchanged each year. The holiday is second only to Christmas in terms of the number of cards sent.

Who invented the Valentine's Day Candy Box idea?

Richard Cadbury invented the first Valentine's Day candy box in the late 1800s. 

Which city receives over 1,000 letters address to Shakespeare's Juliet Capulet every year?
The Italian city of Verona, where Shakespeare's lovers Romeo and Juliet lived.

How many roses will be sold on Valentine's Day in a given year?

About 110 million roses, most of them red, will be sold for Valentine's Day this year.

Which important household technology was patented on Valentine's Day in 1876?
The telephone. Alexander Graham Bell applied for his patent on the telephone, an "improvement in telegraphy," on Valentine's Day, 1876.

What percentage of American women send themselves flowers on Valentine's Day?
Fifteen percent of women in the United States send themselves flowers on Valentine's Day. 
How much money do Americans spend on Valentine's Candy?

Americans spend $655 million each Valentine's Day on candy, making it the fourth biggest holiday of the year for confectionery purchases, after Halloween, Christmas and Easter (in that order). 

What percentage of men make plans in advance for Valentine's Day?
36% !!! In the U.S., it's estimated that 64 percent of men do not make plans in advance for Valentine's Day. 

The most notorious St. Valentine's Day was in 1929 when seven people were gunned down in an assassination attempt in Chicago. Five members of one mobster's gang planned to kill members of a riva
l gang, including the leader. What gang planned the shooting, and who was the main target?
Al Capone's gang planned to kill Bugs Moran. Bugs Moran was on his way to the garage where the killing took place, but turned away when he saw someone dressed as a policeman (the disguise of the killers) and escaped. One of the seven killed was an innocent man who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A Roman myth says that roses grew when Cupid was carrying a certain liquid to the gods on Mt. Olympus. Cupid spilled the
 liquid and from that spot roses grew. What was the liquid?
Nectar. Nectar was the drink of the gods, ambrosia the food of the gods.

During Victorian times, this was considered bad luck on Valentine's Day?
Signing the card. 

Hope this gets you through the lonely night, and maybe leads to a less-than-solo wrap up to your evening ;-) Just kidding.  Have fun, be safe and happy Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fat Tuesday - why DO we party like this? A little history

It occurred to me that though I have learned a lot about the roots of Mardi Gras and Carnival in my trips to Louisiana and in the crowd at handful of similar "Carnivale" parades on my visits to the Caribbean, many folks probably don't know much about the "WHY" of Mardi Gras, outside of the obvious opportunity to get drunk and enjoy the cheap thrill of a boobie flash for the cost of a few beads. Indulge me a bit of academic intervention. Who knows? Maybe it'll come in handy at trivia night:

Mardi Gras History from the official New Orleans Mardi Gras site (paraphrased)

The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced to medieval Europe, passing through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons. From here, the traditional revelry of "Boeuf Gras," or fatted calf, followed France to her colonies.

On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans, naming it "Pointe du Mardi Gras" when his men realized it was the eve of that festive holiday. Bienville also established "Fort Louis de la Louisiane" (which is now Mobile) in 1702. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America's very first Mardi Gras.

In 1704, Mobile established a secret society (Masque de la Mobile), similar to those that form our current Mardi Gras krewes. It lasted until 1709.

In 1710, the "Boeuf Gras Society" was formed and paraded from 1711 through 1861. The procession was held with a huge bull's head pushed alone on wheels by 16 men--later, Rex would parade with an actual bull, draped in white and signaling the coming Lenten meat fast. This occurred on Fat Tuesday.

New Orleans was established in 1718 by Bienville. By the 1730's, Mardi Gras was celebrated openly in New Orleans, but not with the parades we know today. In the early 1740's, Louisiana's governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, established elegant society balls--the model for the New Orleans Mardi Gras balls of today.

The earliest reference to Mardi Gras "Carnival" appears in a 1781 report to the Spanish colonial governing body. That year, the Perseverance Benevolent & Mutual Aid Association was the first of hundreds of clubs and carnival organizations formed in New Orleans.

By the late 1830s, New Orleans held street processions of maskers with carriages and horseback riders to celebrate Mardi Gras. Dazzling gaslight torches, or "flambeaux," lit the way for the krewe's members, and lent each event an exciting air of romance and festivity.

In 1856, six young Mobile natives formed the Mistick Krewe of Comus, invoking John Milton's hero Comus to represent their organization. Comus brought magic and mystery to New Orleans, with dazzling floats (known as tableaux cars) and masked balls. Krewe members remained anonymous, and to this day, Comus still rides!

In 1870, Mardi Gras' second "Krewe," the Twelfth Night Revelers, was formed, with the first account of Mardi Gras "throws". Newspapers began to announce Mardi Gras events in advance, and even printed "Carnival Edition" lithographs of parades' fantastic float designs (after they rolled, of course--themes and floats were always carefully guarded before the procession).

1872 was the year that a group of businessmen invented a King of Carnival--Rex--to preside over the first daytime parade. Honoring visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, they introduced his family colors of purple, green and gold as Carnival's official colors. Purple stands for justice; gold for power; and green for faith. This was also the Mardi Gras season that Carnival's improbable anthem, "If Ever I Cease to Love," was cemented, due in part to the Duke's fondness for the tune.

In 1873, floats began to be constructed entirely in New Orleans instead of France.

In 1875, Governor Warmoth signed the "Mardi Gras Act," making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana, which it still is.

Mardi Gras krewes developed from private social clubs with restrictive membership policies. Since all of these parade organizations are completely funded by their members, New Orleanians call it the "Greatest Free Show on Earth"!

So what are you gonna do with this info? You're going to come fatten up on Tuesday, February 12th from 11:30-close at Lat43 and Minglewood Tavern to help raise money for the YMCA Teens Service Mission to New Orleans. A little bit about the event and the cause...

4th Annual Mardi Gras Fundraiserjennifer goulart amero, 90 seconds and velvet

FAT Tuesday, February 12, 2013 11:30am- close

Teen Leaders from across the North Shore YMCA Service area will make their 4th trip to New Orleans, Louisiana to assist in rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina disaster.  Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005. and though many years have passed since Katrina destroyed most of New Orleans and its neighboring communities, there’s still work to be done to bring this area back to “normal”.

“The devastation is vast, even years later”, explains Rick Doucette, Executive Director of Teen and Camp Services at the Cape Ann YMCA.  “This is a tremendous opportunity for local teens to help make a profound and lasting difference in the lives of people who so desperately need a helping hand.”   Travel, lodging and meal expenses are estimated at $1,100 per youth.  Our hope is to fully fund each teen’s trip through a collaborative effort with local donors and businesses doing events over the next couple months.  The Latitude 43 event is in its 4th year, and, like the trip itself, and has become a high point of our year; kicking off our fundraising efforts in preparation for the trip.”

“The event has been a big success for the teens raising travel money in past years. And it’s become a very important part of our connection to the community”, said Zak Sears, General Manager of Latitude 43 and Minglewood Tavern.  “Even our music this year is locally based and totally donated. The guys from The Runaround are my friends and a few are my cousins.  So when I asked them to help out, they agreed without hesitation.  This is Gloucester”.

The teen participants are involved in the preparations as much as they are the actual mission.  Dressed in Mardi Gras costumes, handing out beads and selling raffle tickets the night of is only part of their commitment to the success of their trip. Teens are credited for all of the in-kind (raffle item) donations they secure for the event.

“We believe this should be a team effort, and that the kids learn as much from having to work for their trip as they do in actually going to New Orleans,” Doucette explains.  “And by soliciting their own raffle items, they are reaching out within their own circles to build awareness for the trip and for the importance of our work in Louisiana.  These teens really get so much throughout the process to the end of the journey; their feedback in our Trip Reflections always show amazing insight and gratitude.”
Other events to support Y Teens Rebuild New Orleans IV include: A concert at the historic Larcom Theater in Beverly featuring Henri Smith and Charles Neville on February 8th, 50% of ticket sales will be donated to the trip. Charles Neville is a Grammy winner and Henri Smith is both an incredible entertainer and a New Orleans native. The theater is a piece of history and the night will be one to remember. Tickets available

Event Details
Special supplemental "Big Easy" Menu available throughout both Latitude 43 and Minglewood for both lunch and dinner.
Live Entertainment in Minglewood Tavern from 7:30-10:30PM provided by:
The Runaround - Local Ska sensations

Reservations for dinner in the Latitude 43 Dining Room strongly recommended. Lunch reservations in Lat43 also available. Minglewood Tavern is first-come, first-serve.
Latitude 43 Restaurant & Bar
25 Rogers Street Gloucester, Massachusetts 01930 Phone: 978-281-0223
There will also be Raffles for Goods and Services, a 50/50 Raffle and other events planned throughout the evening.
As they say in New Orleans, "Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler". Let the good times roll......

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Bowl in New Orleans, it's all about the food

Today's the big day for football fans, though less a big deal for all of us up here in New England who won't be cheering our beloved Patriots on to Super Bowl victory.  Still, we will eat and drink in celebration of, well, a reason to eat and drink while the Baltimore Ravens take on the San Francisco 49ers in Superbowl 47 at the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome Arena in New Orleans, LA.

And what a perfect time for a big ole football game to come to NOLA, just a little over a week before the BIGGEST event in the Crescent City's calendar year, Mardi Gras.  It makes me happy to see this much tourist traffic and, more importantly, tourism dollars funneling into New Orleans as they continue to struggle to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina. 

It'll surely help them out in a huge way.

I won't pretend to know (or really care) at all about football.  I'm in it for the wings and the beer, but this year the location will have me glued to the set for the pregame festivities with a bit of N'awlins style revelry that just may be more memorable than the much-anticipated Super Bowl commercials.  

Why do I care so much about the choice of venue for Super Bowl? Because I love New Orleans. Because I care deeply about the people there who have suffered such tragedy from Katrina. And because I am involved in a drive to send some smart, cool kids to NOLA to help with the rebuilding.

This week, I'm all about all things Cajun and costumed. As a planner and promoter of a couple of local Mardi Gras events (which fund the local YMCA Teens trip to NOLA), I'm spending a lot of time thinking about Fat Tuesday these days.  From helping to promote a concert with New Orleans' own Henri Smith and Grammy winner Charles Neville at the Larcom Theater in Beverly, MA on February 8th  to helping to plan the 4th annual Fat Tuesday event at Latitude 43 and Minglewood Tavern in Gloucester, MA, I'm up to my ears in beads and gumbo.

And speaking of gumbo, I think it's appropriate on this day of football feasting and in the next week of pre-lenten gluttony that is the very essence of Mardi Gras, to take a close look at the flavors of NOLA.

New Orleans cuisine is as extreme in flavor and color as it's people. Intensely hot, spicy, salty, rich, boozie or sweet, there is nothing mediocre about this stuff.  Just how I like it. 

I visited New Orleans about a decade ago and though the eateries may have changed since then, the "Must Eats" certainly have not. Here's a crib sheet on what you've got to try if you ever make it to the French Quarter:
Begniets - French for "doughnut", but hole-less and square and crispier than the American variety. If you try nothing else on this list, eat these.
Chickory Coffee - bitter, hearty, heart-racing stuff that is only palatable served as a foil to the sweet sticky begniets.  Get them at the Cafe Du Monde in Lafayette Square for some incredible people watching.
Étouffée or etouffee is a shellfish and rice dish with a spicy blond "roux" found in both Cajun and Creole cuisine, but vary in spicing and, therefore, flavor depending on which culture's etouffee you order. The name means, "smothered" in French and refers to the regional cooking technique employed in making this dish.
Gumbo - consisting primarily of a strongly-flavored stock, meat or shellfish, okra, and seasoning and what the Cajuns call the "holy trinity" of vegetables - celery, bell peppers and onions. The name of this dish is likely derived from either the Bantu word for okra (ki ngombo) or the Choctaw word for filé (kombo). Economically speaking, gumbo is a great way to feed a crowd and use up "leftovers" in this colorful stew.

Hurricanes - every 20-something college kid who makes the pilgrimage to party till you puke on Bourbon Street has suffered the aftermath of a Hurricane bender.  Sickly sweet and loaded with booze, every bar in town will serve these up in giant plastic souvenir glasses on the cheap.  Created by tavern owner Pat O'Brien as a way to utilize  poor local rum until he could get cases of scotch and whiskey, he poured the rum and juice mixture into a hurricane-lamp shaped glass and gave it away to sailors, who presumably suffered misery worse than death when returning to sea after a night of drinking them.

Jambalaya - a close cousin to the Spanish Pallella, Jambalaya finds it origin in the Caribbean dishes introduced by transplanted slaves and also varies based on Cajun or Creole preparation. Universally made with andouille (smoked) sausage and saffron (from the Spanish influence), the dish is made with trinity vegetables, rice and chicken and can be identified as Cajun or Creole by the use or absence of tomatoes among other things.

King Cake - served throughout the Carnival season, the cake has a small gift inside, often a small plastic baby, said to represent Baby Jesus. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket is entitled to various privileges and also obligations.
Mimosas - legend says that the Mimosa was invented at the Court of Two Sisters - the BEST spot for a giant brunch under a canopy of bayou verdant vines, and served up with great jazz.  Every dish you might want to sample from the local cuisine will be present on the buffet tables. Go hungry and plan nothing for after - you'll be in food coma.
 Muffeletta - think "hangover helper". Salty olive salad stuffed into an Italian cold cut sandwich served in crunchy bread, presumably designed by a young deli hand who'd dragged himself into work after a night in the French Quarter.  Buy two bottles of water with your order. Take your rings off before bed or have them cut off the next day from the swelling.
Pralines - candied pecan loveliness that'll rip your fillings out and get you a serious scolding from your dentist. Eat them in small doses or suffer a mother of a white sugar crash.
Po Boys - the Po'Boy sandwich varies about as widely as the costumes at Mardi Gras itself, from content to seasoning, but is essentially battered, fried seafood served on crusty bread with a creamy sauce. Common Po'Boy varietals include shrimp, oysters, cat fish and soft shelled crab. The origin of the name is deeply rooted in New Orleans history, beginning as a free meal served at a local venue to strikers in a battle over unfair treatment of workers installing NOLA's famous street cars.
"Here comes another poor boy" was heard as the workers lined up for a free meal during the struggle against the street car company. The tale is colorful and worth a read.
Hungry yet? Here's a link to a great recipe source with 50 or so Cajun and Creole regional dishes from authentic to diet. The first three listed are family cookbooks from Native Louisianans. I'd start there.
Not inclined to make it yourself? 
Come to the February 12th Mardi Gras Event at Lat43 and Minglewood and try out their special Mardi Gras Menu. 10% of total sales for lunch, dinner and drinks will be donated to the Y Trip. Live music by the Runaround, goods and services raffle, 50/50 raffle, magic, facepainting and more.

OR the February 8th Concert, and buy the VIP package, which includes a Cajun buffet by award-winning restaurant Chianti at the meet-the-artists pre-party in the grande salon before the show. Tickets on sale online at and at Gloucester Music, Casa de Moda in Beverly and at the Cape Ann YMCA or call 978-525-9093 
50% of profits will be donated the the Y Trip