The Worst Blog of the Year

December 28, 2014

So this week haul out that old Andy Williams Christmas record and hum the following to the tune of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”


It’s the least creative blog of the year
With the stereo blaring
And everyone telling you “Christmas is here!”
It’s the least creative blog of the year
It’s the sap-sappiest Sunday to write.
With those football games starting and gay couples partying
Deep into the night,
It’s the sap- sappiest Sunday to write

Christmas letters are boasting.
It’s a good week for coasting,
And forgetting all that you know
People sit by their yule logs
So just link to some past blogs
And hope next week your juice is in flow
It’s the least creative blog of the year

One time I was crowing
Bout meals I’d been knowing
Who could possibly care?
It was the least creative blog of that year

Last year I was freezing
Cause my furnace was wheezing
From the ice storm that started to blow
The week before Christmas
(Which we know rhymes with “isthmus”)
So I wrote about all of the cold

It was the least creative blog of the year

One year I just gave in
To laxity and then
I just said “Who cares?”

It’s the least creative blog
It’s the least creative blog
It’s the least creative blog of the year.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

Christmas Food Songs?

December 21, 2014

Having spent most of the last week recovering from the Feast of St. Cholestra, I’m looking forward to some highly seasonal food. That’s seasonal, not highly seasoned, food. I eat highly seasoned food at every season of the year. This week I’m talking (well, singing, actually) about those special foods that people haul out to enjoy especially at Christmas time. You know, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, plum pudding, a soul a soul cake (please, good Mrs., a soul cake). Later we’ll have some pumpkin pie and we’ll do some caroling. That sort of thing.

Of course it’s doubtful that very many readers of the Thornapple Blog have plum pudding or soul cake. Those are decidedly British holiday foods. Plum pudding (also known fondly as “the pud”) is made from dried fruits and suet. (Oooh, yummy!) Sounds like one of those fruitcakes that famously get re-gifted year after year after year. It’s been years since we had any fruitcake around my house. Actually, I kind of miss it.

And it’s also not clear why soul cakes even get mentioned at Christmas, since the authentic tradition is to hand them out to kids who ring your doorbell instead of tiny little candy bars during the Hallowmas season. The idea that this has something to do with Christmas probably comes from the fact that Peter, Paul and Mary stuck some verses of the traditional begging song that children sang when going door to door for soul cakes into a medley with “Hey Ho Nobody Home,” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Those are proper Christmas carols, but they don’t mention any food items. “Hey Ho” mentions meat and drink, but points out that the singer has none, while “Merry Gentlemen” leaves us only with “tidings of comfort and joy”. Tidings never filled the stomach.  What kind of a deal is that? I think it’s a good idea to stick some soul cakes in there in order to get ready for the proper spirit of the season, don’t you?

What about those chestnuts roasting on an open fire? I guess this is one that people of my age or older might have eaten. But a blight had all but eliminated the American chestnut tree even by the time I was born in 1951. I mainly associate chestnuts with New York City, where you can (or once could) get freshly roasted chestnuts from street venders who were cooking them over charcoal on their pushcarts. I’m not sure whether those came from an American chestnut or not. We do produce chestnuts here in Michigan. A quick web search tells me that you could have gotten them at Silver Bells in the City, so maybe this is not so passé as I think.

And then there is lutefisk. I’ve actually had some lutefisk once, but once again it’s not something that I would expect most readers of the Thornapple blog to have much direct experience with. We only know about this Norwegian delicacy (?) because Garrison Keillor makes jokes about it on Prairie Home Companion. I don’t personally know any lutefisk songs, but apparently there is one. Strange how these seasonal foods live on in popular culture more successfully than on our tables.

Pumpkin pie. Now THAT I’ve eaten.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

Feast of St. Cholestera

December 14, 2014

It’s the time of year for food rituals. This week’s entry reprints a selection from the writing of Lisa Heldke. I was lucky enough to attend the Feast of St. Cholestera in St. Peter, MN this year. Here is a lengthy quote from Lisa’s announcement for this year’s Feast, which in true Thornapple Blog form, has absolutely nothing to say about St. Cholestra. If you are inclined, you can learn more about her HERE.

Reuters: European butter scientists’ hopes were dashed this week, when the probe they had managed to land on the surface of a pfeffernusse went dark, after just two days of transmitting data about the cookie.

To scientists, the pfeffernusse represents a unique glimpse into the ancient universe; they are among the oldest elements of that universe, for the simple reason that no one has ever eaten one, so they just keep circling the holidays from year to year, showing up to add a craggy, powdery ancient-universe touch to people’s festive cookie plates. “With this probe, we were really hoping to drill down, literally, and find out what the universe is really made of—and how it smells,” noted Einar Filmjolk, of the Culinary Cosmological Academy of Sweden.

Even though the scientists only were able to collect two days’ worth of data, those data revealed that much of what we thought we knew about the structure of the butter cookie was altogether too pat. “There’s just a whole lot more butter there than we would have thought, given the dry, almost arid appearance of the pfeffernusse,” stated Filmjolk. “No, we don’t know why. Give us time, for heaven’s sakes. We’re grieving here.” The scientist responded to reporters’ questions somewhat tartly, the strain of the previous days’ frantic work clearly having caught up on him.

Problems arose when the probe, whose batteries were to be recharged by the light of the last remaining incandescent light bulb in Europe (the location of which cannot be disclosed, due to its contraband nature) bounced, upon hitting the surface of the hard, rocklike cookie. When it landed the second time, it dislodged a shower of powdered sugar, which coated the receptacles that were to collect incandescent light, rendering them dysfunctional, not to mention sticky.

The results, to say the least, were devastating for the European team, which had hoped to collect decades of data from the pfeffernusse, which is arguably older than the Twinkie. “The information we could have gained about the origins of matter, time, space and, well, pretty much everything, just by studying the interior of a pfeffernuss, well, gosh, let’s just say that we’re pretty broken up about the whole thing,” said Harald Quark, of the Max Planck Institute of Dairy Science in Schleswig-Holstein.

Amidst all the disappointment, there is some small relief among the scientists who worked on the cookie probe. At least the landing did not destroy the integrity of the cookie, which was still intact after being hit by a probe twice. During previous landing attempts, “that’s the way the cookie crumbled,” reported Quark.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University


December 7, 2014

This week I learned that science has figured out how to quantify woo. I was sitting around listening to a group of friends talking about some goofy HR instrument for classifying a person’s relative strengths and weaknesses in group interactions. They were saying that only one member of their team had “woo” as a strength. Now here comes a tangent. I was, of course, listening to this conversation, so my first challenge was simply to figure out what these people were saying. I mean one thought was that they were just dropping their L’s, in which case they were just talking about a co-worker who wore a lot of sweaters. (e.g. “She had wool.”) But that thought didn’t parse with the context, which also included other personality measures like “sensitivity” and “analytic ability”. So “wool” was out. But maybe this was an oblique reference to the Steely Dan classic “Dr. Wu”. Are you with me?

For those not with me, the song goes like this:

You walked in 
 And my life began again 
 Just when I'd spent the last piaster 
 I could borrow 
 All night long 
 We would sing that stupid song 
 And every word we sang 
 I knew was true

This might have also let me in for a nice food thing, because there actually is a Dr. Wu who writes on the wondrous benefits of juicing. Juicing itself would make for a nice tangent on a tangent, but denying yourself the opportunity to follow absolutely every tangent is pretty crucial to the Thornapple Blog. So tick that one off for this week.

The Steely Dan lyrics might be pointing to an idea that’s been picked up by a pretty popular Michigan band called Spontaneous Woo. I’ve never heard them (I’m old remember). This line of thinking would have at least gotten me to the right spelling, and maybe even into the ballpark, but spontaneous woo is musician’s jargon for a certain kind of audience reaction that causes the vibe to take off into the aesthetic stratosphere. For my generation, it was usually kicked off when someone in the back of the room would yell “Whippin’ Post” during a momentary lull. I note that it did not matter what band was playing that night, the implication being that any band would be complemented by a request to play a tune written, recorded and played by the Allman Brothers—a band which at their peak was noted for their ability to generate spontaneous woo.

Here we could launch into Gregg Allman’s vegetarian diet, but to stay on the woo trail like a bloodhound I’d better note that sometimes woo is another word for bogosity (itself a term for the quality of being bogus). Here, ‘woo’ is a diminutive of woo-woo, or perhaps just wooo. This is not what the HR crowd has learned to quantify. There’s also a group of physicians and foodies who have created something called a WooFood (or maybe it’s (Woo)Food) blog and certification system that’s pointing you to healthier eating, especially at restaurants. It’s interesting enough for me to provide a link to it, but it’s still not the “woo factor” that I was looking for.

The Internet tells me that there is also a band called Woo Factor, but we finally hit bingo when we get around to the recent book by Rachel Lee Strasberg. I haven’t read it, but the subtitle states pretty clearly what the HR types were after “Have Them Magnetically Attracted to Giving You What You Want”. That’s the quality that you’ve just got to have in a productive group of employees, it seems, and it’s a great advance of science to be able to quantify it.

As for me, I can attest that I was able to get a total stranger named Dorothy to give me what I wanted on a recent trip to a chain restaurant that is almost certainly NOT certified by (Woo) Food. What I wanted was a BigBoy, but I can’t say for sure whether she was magnetically attracted to give it to me or just sent over to take my order by the shift manager.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University