Everyone is worried about being healthy these days, checking calories and watching their consumption of junk food and processed products.
Did you know there is a snack out there that in its pure form is nutritious and low calorie, non-GMO and without sugar? Even fruit has natural sugars, but good, old-fashioned popcorn fibre and carbohydrates and is even gluten-free.
Two tablespoons of kernels will make four cups of popcorn, which has 120 calories.
I bet you’re saying, “Who knew?!”
Well, wait until I tell you some of the history of this amazing little snack food. As a dedicated movie goer, I figured a little tribute was in order, you see, as Jan. 19 is actually considered Popcorn Day.
Did you know that popcorn has been around for thousands of years? Pre-Columbian indigenous peoples used it extensively.
When explorers discovered the Americas they saw popcorn for the first time, Hernando Cortes recorded in 1519 that the Aztecs he encountered not only ate it, but also used it as a decoration and in tribute to their gods.
French explorers near the Great Lakes met Iroquois that were making popcorn in a heated pottery container buried in sand. And yet, interestingly enough, it was not until the 1800s that American culture records eating popcorn.
At first, it was ground and eaten as a breakfast cereal (Mrs. Kellogg apparently enjoyed it most mornings before her husband invented Corn Flakes. No kidding.)
In 1848, the word popcorn was included in an American dictionary, as popping the kernels was becoming more popular.
The first poppers were just wire cages with a long handle that were held over a fire. Charles Cretors adapted his street cart technology for roasting nuts to popping corn in 1885.
His family business is still where most movie theatre poppers are bought (along with most other concession machines). His great grandson, also named Charlie, will tell you all about their history if you visit their website.
Popcorn seemed to inspire the creative entrepreneurial nature in many people. Louis Ruckheim would never have made his fortune with Cracker Jack if he hadn’t had popcorn as a base ingredient.
His product and plain popcorn were the first movie snacks hawked by independent sellers in movie theatres at the turn of the 20th century.
You see, movie theatre owners thought popcorn was an “unnecessary nuisance” and would detract from the movie experience.
As the Great Depression made things tougher for most people, popcorn became one of the few “affordable luxuries” that could be enjoyed on an outing.
Theatre owners only gave in little by little, at first charging vendors a dollar a day to sell popcorn outside the theatre (in those days, the popcorn sold for five to ten cents a bag).
In 1938, a fellow named Glen W. Dickson saw the wave of the future and renovated his Midwest theatres to include indoor concessions. He never looked back.
During the Second World War, when sugar rationing became the norm, the consumption of popcorn increased threefold.
Of course, you can get popcorn at home too. Jolly Time was the first brand available in grocery stores in 1914. (Orville Redenbacher didn’t show up until 1970).
Overall, in both Canada and America, the per person consumption of popcorn is about 43 quarts per year (there are four cups in a quart).
You’re skeptical, I can tell.
I have covered the idea that this is a whole grain snack made simply for easy enjoyment. But many people get caught up in the argument about genetically modified food, as the corn used for animal feed and many products we consume is often at the top of that list.
However, from my research of various sources I always got the same answer: the type of maize that is popcorn is currently not nor has it ever been genetically modified in North America.
There is also no awareness of it having been modified anywhere internationally. Isn’t that interesting?
Not any corn can be popcorn, it’s a certain type with specific qualities – notably the hard shell and specific moisture level (it’s the moisture expanding as steam when the kernels are heated that makes it pop).
Don’t you feel better now? So, with Popcorn Day coming soon, and the Oscars right behind it, here’s your chance to keep up if you think you’re down on your popcorn consumption.
After all, it’s a whole grain, a good, old-fashioned healthy snack.
There are also offers for other nights that apply to seniors and kids and students. Check out their sites at the links above for details.
If you’d like a new twist on the old favourite, here’s a fun exotic popcorn recipe I found on the U.S. Popcorn Board’s website. (It’s a fun resource if you want to try more recipes, or your kids need to do an essay on something fun.)
Coconut Curry Cashew Popcorn
Makes 10 cups Preparation time: 45 minutes
- 10 cups popped popcorn
- 2 cups cashews
- 1/2 cup flaked coconut
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 honey
- 1 tablespoon mild curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place popcorn, cashews and coconut in a large bowl; set aside.
2. Heat butter, sugar and honey in a medium saucepan. Stir mixture over medium heat until it begins to boil. Boil 2 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and stir in curry powder and baking soda (mixture will foam).
3. Pour syrup over popcorn mixture in bowl and stir until evenly coated. Pour mixture onto a large, rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan lined with foil and sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake 30 minutes, stirring twice during baking time. Stir mixture a few times as it cools on baking sheet. Store in an airtight container.
So now here we are, with the New Year rung in and the resolutions made – now what?
It seems we always start the new year with a combination of energy and guilt. We get all fired up to start new things, improve our performance, be more healthy and positive….
And then real life gets back to full swing and we get overwhelmed and we feel guilty that we didn’t keep those resolutions or forgot to post that we were grateful on social media. You know how it goes.
I have a proposal to get us out of that blue funk which takes over our lives this time of year:
Let’s get back to basics.
How about we start small? Let’s not aim for the moon right away, maybe we just aim for hitting the same mark.
- Get up, manage to smile and greet your spouse or kids with at least a sense of hope that today will be OK.
- Grab your coffee, or have your smoothie – maintain your regular morning routine that has been keeping you going.
- Make it through the day aiming to just stay above water – can you manage a bit of water cooler talk? (The Bachelor is back, maybe you have a comment? Or you could just commiserate with others trying to keep up with life.)
- Get home – try not to succumb to road rage (maybe you need to turn the radio up, that’s OK). If you need a sticky note to remind you to get the kids from tae kwon do or your spouse from their office, nobody will think less of you; it’s OK.
- Make a simple dinner – comfort food is made for January. If you can manage a homemade quick pasta, great. If it’s more a night to order pizza, get one vegetarian and then you can say you took a healthy step.
- Relax after dinner, maybe have a cup of tea. Write yourself a few reminders for tomorrow and then go to bed. You don’t have to watch The Bachelor live. That’s why you have a DVR.
- Get up tomorrow and repeat for the rest of the week. At the end of the week, you can review, and work toward adding one new thing – a new flavour of smoothie, a new topic at the water cooler… pretty soon, you’ll be ready for a new recipe at dinner.
Often at this time of year we do some looking back, and we can be quite nostalgic. You don’t want to be stuck in the past, but focusing on a bit of tried-and-true comfort can be good.
The familiarity of old things can help us conserve a little energy when we need it, and it helps us remember why keeping those old things alive is worthwhile.
Not everything has to be new, or an adventure.
One of my favourite nostalgic meals is tuna casserole. There was never really a recipe – my mom just filled the Pyrex casserole dish she had with egg noodles and the filling.
Whatever we didn’t eat that night with jellied salad went in the fridge and got portioned out for leftovers (it’s great reheated).
In case you’re keen, it goes like this:
- Par-cook enough egg noodles to fill your casserole dish (usually 150-200 g of pasta per person is enough, but you need a baking dish to put it in). Cook them until just barely soft, even a bit crunchier than al dente. Preheat the oven to 350F /175C.
- Prepare the filling: 1 can of tuna per 2 people, 1 can mushroom soup per 4 people, veggies (mushrooms are really good, peas work, broccoli is OK, green onions are nice to sprinkle in)
- Drain the cans of tuna. Pour the soup into a medium bowl and add 1 can of milk per can of soup. Season liberally with thyme, oregano, pepper – and anything else you fancy. Stir the soup mix together till well blended. Chop veggies into bite size pieces.
- Layer the casserole: add 1/3 of the noodles, then flake in half of the tuna, half of the veggies and 1/3 of the soup mix. Season with salt and pepper. Repeat the layers: second 1/3 of noodles, remaining filling and second 1/3 of soup mix and more salt & pepper; then last 1/3 of noodles with last 1/3 of soup mix drizzled over and a bit more salt & pepper.
- If desired, you can grate some fontina or parmesan cheese on top, or add bread crumbs (this was something fancy I added as a teenager).
- Bake in the oven, covered, for approximately 40 minutes, until filling is bubbling. (If your dish is really full, you will want to put a sheet of tin foil under it to catch any drips in the oven.)
- Serve hot, with jellied salad or iceberg lettuce salad if you want to be really nostalgic. If you like a bit of crunch, those dry “chow mein noodles” are delicious sprinkled over top.
I’ll offer one tip that may involve something new – get someone to help you do this. Even spouses who are foreigners in the kitchen can manage this recipe, and kids love building things.
I think I was seven years old the first time I assembled this dish. Think of it as creating a bit of new nostalgia for your family… “remember way back when you made your first tuna casserole?!”
Happy New Year, folks. Hang in there. (If you are really feeling like you just can’t make it without some encouragement, check out this list: 31 Reasons to Have a Drink in January, courtesy of the fun folks at Urban Daddy.
Here we are, at the end of another year. Now that all the hustle and bustle of Christmas is done, it’s time to focus on winding up the year in style.
There is reminiscing to do and the setting of new goals. When it comes down to actually ringing in the New Year, we all kiss and toast and for some reason we sing Auld Lang Syne.
Do you know why? (If you do, don’t give it away.)
I’m going to explain the history of that and some other New Year’s customs.
The Scots and their Hogmanay holiday (what we call New Year’s) are where many of our current customs originate. I’m proud to say as a half-Scottish girl that Auld Lang Syne was written by the famous Scottish poet, Robbie Burns.
It is said that Burns added to an ancient folk song that spoke of the value of remembering old friendships (the title translates loosely to “for old times’ sake."
In Scotland, the song is sung at the stroke of midnight with everyone holding hands in a circle. When the emigration of Scots to the New World happened in the 19th century, the song went with them.
It is said that Guy Lombardo inadvertently introduced the song in America at New Year’s 1929; it was played in the transition between his televised concerts on the East and West Coast.
It was also one of the three songs sung by soldiers on both sides of the First World War lines during the Christmas Truce.
Its combination of melancholy, nostalgia and hopefulness seems to always strike a chord.
Food and drink are a big part of New Year’s gatherings around the world, and in accordance with culture and tradition symbols of prosperity and luck are often highlighted in the menu.
Pork is a symbol of good fortune and progress, because it is a rich meat with fat, and the animal pushes forward, rooting itself as it moves. Serving pork at New Year’s helps to bring a year of happiness.
Consuming 12 grapes in Spain is said to forecast each month’s tone (sweet grapes mean good fortune, sour ones not so much).
Pulses are popular: in the American South, black-eyed peas mean humility and the good karma from that brings good fortune; in Italy, an abundance of tiny lentils represents abundance in other things.
Cooked greens are good: they look like “greenbacks," and anything representing money could help, right? Coin-shaped foods are good for the same reason.
Eating ring-shaped foods such as donuts signifies “coming full circle” and promotes good fortune
Rich desserts such as items topped with whipped cream or dipped in honey represent good fortune
Wine has an association to many religious festivities, as well as to many pagan rituals.
It has long been the way to “seal the deal” with toasts when groups are gathered. Champagne has been a status symbol since the 18th century, so it’s place at New Year’s parties needs no explanation.
Using the same philosophy, one should not eat lobster or chicken (some say any winged fowl) at New Year’s, as those animals move backwards and so would represent a lack of progress.
In the spirit of showcasing wealth and prosperity, it is said to be best if you leave some food on your plate.
One could take this as a suggestion not to be greedy as well, I suppose. Gifts of food and sustenance at New Year’s wish the recipient good fortune, too.
Having food on the table and in the cupboard before the stroke of midnight means you will be well prepared for the coming year.
The last big category I will mention is the one many people dread – resolutions. Did you know humans have been making them for approximately 2,600 years?
The Babylonians resolved to do things like return borrowed farm equipment, but the effort to make a clean start was still the same.
Robert B. Thomas, the founder of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, offered that sentiment with a financial twist, saying we should “start the new year square with every man.”
I like the tone of a simpler age-old proverb… On New Year’s Eve, kiss the person you hope to keep kissing.
New Year’s is a combination of celebrating another year with friends and loved ones, and planning (or at least wishing) for a successful new year to come.
May you experience the good fortune said to come from at least a few of our customs, and here’s hoping you have someone to hold, perhaps even to kiss, when that familiar song starts to play
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne,
Christmas is my favourite time of year, and Christmas dinner epitomizes the festive season: the food and drink and best of all, the company.
Just think - at what other time of year can you argue about:
- whether the dressing should be traditional or adventurous
- agonize over which tablecloth would look nicer
- which serving pieces to put out to make sure Aunt So-and-so sees the gift you never otherwise use.
(OK, maybe in the closest families that happens every Sunday, but it seems most of the other days of the year we are far too busy to spend that much time on dinner.)
Despite the dysfunctional nature of families, how about we stick with the spirit of the season – be grateful you have those people you care about enough to argue with, and toast their good health before you dive into that sumptuous dinner.
As far as the menu goes, I admit I have always been one who liked to upset the apple cart by trying to suggest some new (or old) twist on the Christmas dinner.
I wanted to try goose after having read Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, finding out that was the traditional bird of Victorian Christmas tables.
I always wondered what Brussels sprouts tasted like and figured they couldn’t really be as bad as my Dad said.
And who wouldn’t marvel at the idea of marshmallows at the dinner table, all toasted over a dish of sweet potatoes.
Then, there was the stuffing.
This was a topic that was hotly discussed by my parents, as my Mom read more cooking magazines and my Dad pined for the “good old days” when celery and sage were all it needed.
(Years later, he would be the one saying why hadn’t we added walnuts or used cornbread earlier.)
But if you ask me what I remember about Christmas dinner, it is not the specific menu items, but rather that warm and fuzzy feeling that followed sampling them all.
I don’t think it was merely the tryptophan that made me groggy and light-headed at Christmas; it was more that sense of euphoria that comes over you when you immerse yourself in the spirit of Christmas.
If you truly believe in the essence of Christmas then as you let it into your heart and take active part in the festivities and the giving, you cannot help but feel better yourself.
Children know this intuitively, and it is only as our hearts harden if we don’t practice such things that we lose sight of the true meaning of this holiday.
Christmas is not for children, but for the child that lies within us all, hoping for a chance to believe in, something pure and good, and listening for that magic signal which says that something exists.
So, if you need a dose of A Wonderful Life or The Polar Express before Christmas dinner to get you in full gear, go right ahead.
When you sit down to dinner, cherish the meal, and those around you, and of course the cook who made it possible.
It is of great importance to take Christmas to heart, for if you do it right, it just might stay with you until next year. Wouldn’t that make the world a wonderful place?
As Tiny Tim said so long ago, “God Bless us every one.”
Merry Christmas from our table to yours.
More Happy Gourmand articles
- Nuts at Christmas Dec 17
- Top 10 cookie-making tips Dec 10
- Tasting old memories Dec 3
- You can make a difference Nov 29
- The night jingle music died Nov 19
- Let them eat cake Nov 12
- Pleasure principle gone wild Nov 5
- Another 50 Shades of Grey Oct 29
- KGH makes scary decision Oct 22
- Stocking up for winter Oct 15
- Fairy-tale season Oct 8
- Do you fancy farm-to-fork? Oct 1