Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cheers to “National Amaretto Day”!

Amaretto is an Italian sweet almond-flavored liqueur. It is made from a base of apricot or almond pits, sometimes both.  “Amaro” is Italian for "bitter", in this case, bitter almond but the addition of sweeteners cover the bitter taste.
The legend of the liqueur is centered on an artist in Italy. In 1525, a Saronno church commissioned artist Bernardino Luini, one of Leonardo da Vinci's pupils, to paint their sanctuary with frescoes. As the church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Luini needed to depict the Madonna, but was in need of a model. He found his inspiration in a young widowed innkeeper, who became his model and (in most versions) lover. Out of gratitude and affection, the woman wished to give him a gift. Her simple means did not permit much, so she steeped apricot kernels in brandy and presented the resulting concoction to a touched Luini.
Disaronno Originale (28% abv) has a characteristic bittersweet almond taste (although it contains no almonds or nuts) and is known for its distinctive appearance. Disaronno claims its "originale" amaretto's "secret formula" is unchanged from the year 1525 which dates back to the legend and claims the Luini tale as its own particular history. Its production remains in Saronno, but the product is sold worldwide. The company describes its amaretto as an infusion of "apricot kernel oil" with "absolute alcohol, burnt sugar, and the pure essence of seventeen selected herbs and fruits". The amber liqueur is presented in a rectangular glass decanter designed by a craftsman from Murano. Their amaretto contains no almonds, and is nut-free, therefore, it is safe for people with nut or related allergies.
Lazzaroni Amaretto (24% abv), produced by Paolo Lazzaroni & Figli S.p.A., also presents itself as the first such liqueur. However, it is based on an infusion of Amaretti di Saronno (macaroons), a process which imparts a "delicate almond & apricot flavour". Lazzaroni claim the tale of the young couple blessed by the bishop as the origin of their generations-guarded family recipe, dating it to 1718; the amaretto has been in production since 1851.

(Source: Wikipedia; Photo credit: glass, eHow.com; Church of San Francesco in Saronno, Italy, Wikipedia; the Disaronno Originale rectangular bottle, Wikipedia; Lazzaroni Amaretto , crownwineandspirits.com)

Tuesday is the first day of Passover!

This holiday commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. If you've seen Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments," then you know the story of Passover, more or less. Passover is celebrated for seven or eight days (depending on your branch of Judaism) starting on the night of a full moon in April. Passover usually overlaps with Easter, though occasionally Passover occurs a month after Easter.
Almost all American Jews observe Passover to some extent, even if only to go to their parents' house for a ritual dinner (called a seder) on the first and/or second night of the holiday. Most (though not all) American Jews avoid bread and grain products to one extent or another throughout this holiday, in memory of the fact that our ancestors left Egypt in a hurry and didn't have time to wait for their bread to rise.
Strictly observant Jews do not work, go to school or carry out any business on the first two and last two days of Passover. This is a requirement of Jewish law; however, only about 10% of the American Jewish population observes this rule strictly. Most American Jews will work through Passover, although many may want to take time off the day before Passover, to prepare for the big family dinner. To put this in perspective: imagine if you had to work during the day of Thanksgiving, then prepare for Thanksgiving dinner after getting home from work.
Remember that Passover, like all Jewish holidays, begins the evening before the date that it appears on your calendar. If your calendar says that Passover starts on April 24th, then Passover really begins with the family dinner on the night of April 23rd (Passover Eve, “Erev Pesach”)

(Sources: Wikipedia & jewfaq.org; photo credit: Passover door, passmenotministries.org; Festive Seder table with wine, matza and Seder plate, 2007, Wikipedia; Passover Seder Plate showing (clockwise, beginning from top): maror (romaine lettuce), z'roa (roasted shankbone), charoset, maror (chrein), karpas (celery sticks), beitzah (roasted egg). Photographed on April 12, 2006 by Yoninah, Wikipedia; passover eve, saddoboxing.com)

Tuesday’s food holiday: “National Garlic Day”!

Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, is a close relative to onion,  shallot,  leek,  chive. Garlic has been used throughout history for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The garlic plant's bulb is the most commonly used part of the plant. With the exception of the single clove types, the bulb is divided into numerous fleshy sections called cloves. The cloves are used for consumption (raw or cooked), or for medicinal purposes, and have a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking.
The sticky juice within the bulb cloves is used as an adhesive in mending  glass  and porcelain  in China. Dating back over 6,000 years, it is native to Central Asia, and has long been a staple in the Mediterranean region, as well as a frequent seasoning in Asia, Africa, and Europe. The irrational fear of garlic is alliumphobia (that vampires suffer from!).
Today China is still the largest producer of garlic, followed by India, South Korea, Russia and the US. Most of the garlic in the US is grown in Gilroy, California. Parsley is thought to prevent ‘garlic breath’.

(Sources: Wikipedia; photo credit: garlic, bellybytes.com; garlic being crushed using a garlic press, Wikipedia; Chinese garlic, kid-reborn.blogspot.com)

Tuesday's celebrations

April 19th has a bunch of celebrations to consider:
National Garlic Day
National Amaretto Day
National Hanging Out Day
Humorous Day
Bicycle Day- Albert Hofmann (Swiss chemist who first synthesized the psychedelic drug/entheogen LSD) performed a self-experiment to determine the true effects of LSD (1943) and had to ride home on a bicycle since the use of motor vehicles was prohibited because of wartime restrictions (1943)
After a 51 day siege in Waco, Texas, the Branch Dividian compound goes up in flames, killing the cult members (1993)
Timothy McVeigh bombs the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, and injuring hundreds more (1995)
First day of Passover / Pesach (Jewish): begins at sundown the day before, lasts 8 days
Sierra Leone Republic Day
St. Alphege's Day
St. Leo IX's Day
John Parker Day
Dutch-American Friendship Day (United States)
Patriots' Day (Fla)
Beginning of the Independence Movement (Venezuela)
Christian Feast Day: Ælfheah of Canterbury, Emma of Lesum, Expeditus, George of Antioch, Pope Leo IX
King Mswati III's birthday (Swaziland)
Landing of the 33 (Uruguay)
National Health Day (Kiribati)
Primrose Day (United Kingdom): Primrose Day began in England on this date, 1881 with the death of British statesman Benjamin Disraeli.  Queen Victoria sent two floral wreaths to be placed on his coffin, his favorite flower. England's Primrose Day sprang from this simple gesture and people celebrate by decorating their homes with the flower and gentlemen wore the petals on their lapels.

(Sources: Wikipedia, Suite101.com; photo credit: garlic, bellybytes.com; wooden shoes, freewebs.com; Passover Seder Plate showing (clockwise, beginning from top): maror (romaine lettuce), z'roa (roasted shankbone), charoset, maror (chrein), karpas (celery sticks), beitzah (roasted egg). Photographed on April 12, 2006 by Yoninah; primrose, Primula vulgaris, Wikipedia)