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Beyond the Book Articles
Cultural Curiosities

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A Short Lesson in Restaurant Terminology (05/10)
PERSONNEL
Chef: the cook in charge of a restaurant; from the French chef de cuisine, literally the head of the kitchen.
Executive Chef: sometimes called the head cook, he or she is the one responsible for running the food preparation in a kitchen, ordering food and supplies, making staff schedules, dealing with administrative tasks. ...
Candy Bars, Fascinating Facts (04/10)
Chocolate as a drink was a favorite of Montezuma, Emperor of the Aztecs. Hernando Cortez brought the drink back to Spain in 1529. It remained a favorite of the Spanish royalty for many years before being consumed widely throughout Europe.

It was not until three centuries later in England that chocolate was first used as a non-liquid ...
The World's Largest Porch Swing and Nurturing Talent (03/10)
The memory of her family's visits to the World's Largest Porch Swing in Hebron, Nebraska, sustains Mibs during the bumpy bus ride to Salina where her seriously injured father is hospitalized.

Wackiness like The World's Largest Porch Swing has a sweetness in Savvy and has nothing to do with kitschiness. Instead, Law is inviting us to ...
Women and Botany (03/10)
Before her husband forbade her from pursuing any hobbies or interests, Mary Eleanor Bowes devoted considerable time to studying botany and overseeing the gardens at her family estates. She even became the patron of Scottish naturalist William Paterson, funding his expedition to South Africa, from where he brought native plant specimens as...
Traditional Recipes for Preserving the Sweetness of Summer (02/10)
Jane Fielding's home and family are the center of My One Hundred Adventures. Her mother's inventive, fresh cooking, the gathering of fresh sea food, berries and greens, and the calm fellowship the Fieldings enjoy at mealtimes sustain and fortify Jane as she greets each new adventure. Jane's mother preserves the sweetness of summer...
A Beginner's Guide to Tall Ships (02/10)
The Red Wolf Conspiracy takes place almost entirely aboard an immense sailing ship (aka 'tall ship') with seven decks and five sails, similar, albeit perhaps on a grander scale, to those one might envision in use during the 18th century. Although the book is set in a fantasy world, Redick references familiar ship types and crew ...
The Story of Stamps (01/10)
Great Britain's 'Penny Black' plays a significant role in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It was the first stamp, first issued on May 6, 1840. It cost one penny, was printed in black, and bore the profile of Queen Victoria. For the next 60 years (until her death in 1901), Queen Victoria's portrait was the only subject allowed on ...
Cooking by Feel (01/10)
Although Lillian calls her cooking classes 'The School of Essential Ingredients' and has been asked what those are, she doesn't keep a list of them, nor are any of her recipes written down. While she does acknowledge that baking requires a more carefully balanced set of ingredients (she also believes that couples should make their own ...
Dog Training Methods & The Seeing Eye (11/09)
Edgar Sawtelle would not have much to say—or sign—to the Dog Whisperer. Cesar Millan, the star of 'The Dog Whisperer' on the National Geographic Channel, is known for his 'pack-oriented' philosophy, which traces canine behavior back to their survival instinct for living in highly organized packs led by a single, strong leader. ...
Everett vs. Chomsky (11/09)
In Don't Sleep, There are Snakes, the elephant in the room—or rather, the elephant in the Amazonian jungle—is the noted American linguist, Noam Chomsky. To put it far too simply, Chomsky and Everett are feuding over which has supremacy in linguistics: genetics or culture, nature or nurture.

Chomsky's theory of universal ...
"Crimes of the Century" (11/09)
Tacking down a precise date for when the term 'Crime of the Century' was first utilized is not easy, but most scholars would attach the name of Jack the Ripper to the creation of that notorious slogan. The killing spree in 1888 that resulted in the deaths of at least five accountable victims and possibly ten more was never solved, but...
Norse mythology and Runes (11/09)
Norse mythology is the best preserved version of Germanic paganism, sharing the same essential pantheon with Anglo-Saxon mythology. Both have their roots in a hypothetical Indo-European mythology that is believed to be at the root of most pre-Christian religions in Europe and India (including Hinduism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism) ...
The Vidocq Society (11/09)
'Legend has it that if you give Vidocq two or three of the details surrounding a given crime, he will give you back the man who did it---before you've had time to blink. More than that, he'll describe the man for you, give you his most recent address, name all his known conspirators, tell you his favorite cheese. So compendious is...
S&H Green Stamps (10/09)
Chances are if you’re under 40 you might not remember S&H Green Stamps, but since I’m one step over that hill, I clearly remember licking those sticky little stamps and dreaming of all the possibilities they held as I carefully pasted them onto the enticing matching rectangles. For those of you who can recall pressing those ...
Nanotechnology in Medieval Times (10/09)
Though Graceling is certainly set in a magical history, the time period seems distinctly medieval, based on the descriptions of clothing, weapons, buildings, and the general atmosphere. A descriptive passage towards the end of Graceling made me wonder about the science and craft of stained-glass-making in medieval times. Wielding ...
The Africa-America Institute (09/09)
The work of the airlift organizers continues: The Africa-America Institute is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, non-profit organization with headquarters in New York, and offices in Washington, South Africa, and Mozambique. Founded in 1953, AAI's mission is to promote enlightened engagement between Africa and America through education, ...
Predestination (09/09)
One of the crucial scenes in Home, a scene so important that it repeats and vastly expands on a scene from Gilead, occurs when John Ames and his wife Lila visit the Boughtons for dinner, and Jack discomfits them all by pressing Reverend Ames for his views on the doctrine of predestination. "Do you think some people are intentionally ...
Resurrection Men (09/09)
When we think of grave-robbing, we usually think of dark tales involving bandits pillaging graves for jewelry or other valuables. But the value of bodies in the 19th century stretched far beyond that of their adornments. Before people began donating their bodies to science, the only legal supply of cadavers in the UK for medical ...
Post-Life Environmentalism (09/09)
Clara has such a detached attitude toward the more clinical aspects of her job as undertaker – removing organs, sewing the mouth shut, applying makeup – that her description of these tasks seems no different than a fishmonger discussing the gutting and filleting of salmon. And MacKinnon includes enough subtle hints as to the ...
Estate Appraisal (08/09)
Jenkins' crackerjack antiques appraiser Sterling Glass unlocks a veritable Pandora's Box when she commences to open doors and snoop around the secret rooms and passageways of Wynderly. She quite literally uncovers ancient family secrets that might be best left unexposed to the harsh light of judgment. The problem is, however, many of the ...
Hakawatis and A Thousand and One Nights (06/09)
Once upon a time, not terribly long ago, hakawatis, or storytellers, were commonplace fixtures on Middle Eastern streets. As coffee-drinking gained popularity in Ottoman times, the hakawatis moved from the streets into the coffee houses. Hakawatis were paid by the owners of the coffee houses to draw customers, and the best could ...
The Language of Wales (06/09)
Wales, located on the south-west peninsula of Great Britain (the main island of the United Kingdom) is one of the four constituent nations of the UK, the others are England, Northern Ireland and Scotland (map). Its population is about 3 million (5% of the UK).  For more about the history of Wales, see the sidebar to The ...
Doppelgangers (05/09)
When Cassie sees a woman lying stabbed to death who looks exactly like her, with an ID that matches the identity she used for years as an undercover detective, it seems clear that she is looking at her own doppelganger.
  • The dictionary describes a doppelganger (or doubleganger, from the German for 'doublegoer' or lookalike) as a ghostly...
Donating Dresses (05/09)
Lucky's cover features a lime-green dream dress that Phoebe plans to wear to her over-the-top 8th grade graduation party. That beautiful dress, the way it makes Phoebe feel when she tries it on, and the way it makes her feel when she realizes that her parents can no longer afford to buy it for her, embodies Phoebe's expectations ...
The Slow Food Movement (05/09)
The Slow Food movement began in Italy as a thoughtful protest against the arrival of American fast food in Rome in the 1980's. Seeking to promote an alternative to the Western diet and way of eating, eating slowly in the Slow Food sense means to eat with a full understanding and appreciation of every single step involved in bringing ...
Wolves as Totems (04/09)
Although many in the USA will associate totems - objects, animals or plants revered as a symbol of a tribe and often used in rituals - with Native Americans, totems are found in many cultures throughout the world, tracing far back into prehistory. Google the word and you'll find websites such asanimaltotem.com, devoted to helping one find...
The British Class System (03/09)
As mentioned in the notes at the end of The House at Riverton, author Kate Morton is fascinated with the whole concept of nobility and servant classes. I think many people who aren't familiar with such a strict class system, notably Americans and Australians like Morton, are also intrigued by the thought that there could have been a whole...
World War II at the Movies (03/09)
Alfred Day's attempt to face the disillusionment of war on a film set is similar to what society at the time was doing at the movie theaters. The massive movie hits of the 40s and 50s, like To Hell and Back, allowed moviegoers on both sides of the Atlantic to relive moments of the war, if they had been directly involved, or to understand ...
The AMBER Alert Program (03/09)
The AMBER Alert Program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. The goal of an AMBER Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and...
A Short History of Darts (11/08)
The origin of the game of darts is lost in the mists of time. The game is known to have been played since at least the Middle Ages in England, but it seems likely that bored soldiers lounging around the campsite have probably been throwing arrows at targets for much longer. In fact, it doesn't take much imagination to trace the ...
The story of Chess (10/08)
Chess is thought to have originated in northern India or Afghanistan. The earliest written references are from around 600 AD but there is some evidence that the game could have existed as early as 100 AD. Interest in chess spread along the trade routes from India, with differentvariations found in different countries, such as Shogi in ...
Belief in Ghosts (10/08)
  • A recent survey, cited by Boylan, reveals that 48% of people say they believe in ghosts, with women more likely to say so (56%) than men (38%); overall, more than 1 in 5 Americans say they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost. Having said that, other polls have put the general figures between 37%-65%, which does make ...
The Linking Threads of God and Gold (10/08)
As you might expect with a book about history such as God and Gold, there's plenty of interesting points to highlight and even more for readers to birddog; but Mead is so polyhistoric in his knowledge and so profligate with his references, moving easily from Matthew Arnold to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, it's hard to choose where to begin. Do we...
Shopping Malls (07/08)
A shopping mall is defined as a collection of shops usually in one main building or close series of buildings. It would seem that shopping malls date back to at least the 10th century when it is said that Isfahan's Grand Bazaar in Iran was founded (the current buildings date to the 17th century). The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, ...
All About Cheese (07/08)
Cheese can be made from the the milk of any mammal capable of being milked. Simply put, cheese making is the process of removing water from milk. The simplest method is to add an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar directly to the milk; an alternative method uses bacteria to create an acid in the milk; the bacteria also provides flavor ...
Some of the CIA's Biggest Blunders (06/08)
The Central Intelligence Agency has been riven by turf battles, political infighting, and the lack of qualified agents and analysts. But just as frequently, the CIA has been brought to its knees by thoroughly avoidable blunders…

from the (somewhat) droll…

In 1994, the station chief in Guatemala accused the American Ambassador, ...

Did you know? The US food supply chain factoids. (05/08)
  • The average supermarket food item has traveled 1500 miles to reach our kitchens - that's further than most families go on vacation.
  • If every US citizen ate just one meal a week from locally grown meat and roduce we would save 1.1 million barrels of oil every week!
  • Six companies now ...
Snooker (03/08)
Snooker is a very British sport, primarily played in the UK and various parts of the former colonies. The game bears some similarity to American Pool in that they both involve cues and balls, but Snooker is played on a table four times larger than the Pool table, the pockets are smaller and snooker players would say that the game is more ...
Flamenco Dancing (11/07)
Flamenco, which can be divided into cante ('the song'), baile ('the dance') and guitarra ('guitar'), is the traditional song and dance of the Gypsies (flamencos) of Andalusia in southern Spain. It is believed to have developed over several centuries from Gypsy, Moorish, Andalusian, and other roots (probably including northern India, as ...
Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS - MI6) (08/07)
According toSIS's informative website, a formal and permanent British intelligence service was first established in 1909; but the history of British intelligence organizations engaged in foreign intelligence goes back at least to the 15th century (Thomas Cromwell ran secret agents in Europe on behalf of Henry VIII and Sir Francis ...
Household servants in Victorian Times (07/07)
According to The Victorian Web if a Victorian household could afford only one servant it would likely be a 'general' maid-of-all-work (usually a girl of 13 or 14) similar to the role Bessy takes on. Next would come a house-maid or nurse-maid, followed by a cook. Only once this female trio was in place would the first manservant be ...
The Better Farming Train and the Mallee (07/07)
The Better Farming Train did exist just as described in Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living; it steamed out of Melbourne for the first time in October 1924 and returned for the last time in 1935, making about 38 tours in total. At each of its 10 stops between 500 to 2000 farmers and townspeople would attend the exhibits. You can ...
Animals on Trial (06/07)
The idea of canine testimony being accepted in court is not without precedent (e.g. drug smugglers who are convicted on the evidence of sniffer dogs), but what about the idea of putting an animal itself on trial?

These days, animals are not tried on the basis that they lack the ability to make moral judgments and therefore cannot be...
A Short History of The Hudson Bay Company (12/06)
The Hudson's Bay Company is still very much in existence, but with 500 retail outlets spread across Canada this department store retailer has come a long way from its beginnings in 1670 when King Charles II of Britain granted the lands of the Hudson Bay watershed to 'the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson ...
High John The Conqueror (12/06)
According to Mosley, 'Tall John himself is a reflection of an old slave myth about a spirit named High John the Conqueror. High John, the myth goes, came from Africa to confound the white masters and to ultimately free the slaves.' 

Zora Neale Hurston writes of High John de Conquer (pronounced conker) in The Sanctified Church, a ...
Victoria London (11/06)
If you had a choice between being a tosher, mudlark, rag-and-bone man, scavenger or riverman in Victorian London, which would you choose?

London was a dangerous place with an unnerving number of bodies ending up in the river - cutpurses would murder their victims and throw the bodies in the river, drunken sailors fell overboard, dock ...
Anansi (10/06)
Anansi is one of the gods in West African mythology, sometimes depicted in human form, sometimes as a spider, sometimes as a hybrid.  He's tricky, greedy and lustful, but he's also good-hearted, lucky, and although often bad, never evil.  The legends are believed to have originated with the Ashanti tribe (from Ghana) but spread ...
The Armonica (05/06)
The armonica is a musical instrument constructed of graduated glass bowls with holes and corks in the center. It was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. He was inspired to create it having heard a concert played on wine glasses! For a time armonicas were all the rage, Marie Antoinette (who, incidentally, historians say never did utter ...
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