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Tasty Tidbits About Spam

In a recent entry, I poked fun at a 1958 "Chinese" recipe printed by Good Housekeeping whose main ingredient was "luncheon meat." Sounds sketchy, right? How many Chinese restaurants have you known that featured fresh deli products straight from the wok?

Then a long-time floss reader, Brian, wrote in from Barcelona. "Luncheon ham (also known as Spam) is actually wildly popular with Asian people," he testified. "My Japanese grandmothers would go crazy for that...so Good Housekeeping may have been more authentic than they knew."

We quickly stuck up a trans-Atlantic correspondence about our shared love of Spam (and all the generic copycats it inspired)—and this story was born.

"¢ The epicenter of the Spam universe is Austin, Minnesota, home of a spam factory and a remarkable museum dedicated to the town's most famous product. Spam has such a worldwide following that Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia—to whom Rastafarians would dedicate many a song—once toured the plant.

"¢ Hormel invented Spam in 1937 and still makes it today. At first, the product had a less-than-charismatic name: "Hormel Spiced Ham."

"¢ If you think there's just one flavor of Spam, you're missing out on a world of flavor. There is also hickory-smoked Spam, hot and spicy Spam, garlic Spam, and—for the dieting Spam-lovers among us —"light" Spam. There's even a collector's edition Spam Golden Honey Grail.

"¢ Hormel sponsors an annual recipe contest called the "Great American Spam Championship," with cooks developing new recipes for this product. Some of the 2006 winners state by state: philly cheesesteak spamwich with garlic mayo (California), a-spam-agus risotto (Alabama), and a "romantic country salad for two" with pecan-crusted spam and sweet-and-sour dressing (Tennessee). Extra points, it seems, are given for creative puns.

play-it-again-spam.jpg"¢ Speaking of puns, author Tamar Myers has developed a series of punny murder-mysteries that feature recipes (The Crepes of Wrath, Between a Wok and a Hard Place, The Hand that Rocks the Ladle). The 2005 installment in her series: Play It Again, Spam.

"¢ In South Korea, Spam is considered an appropriate gift for a guest to give a host or vice versa—which beats the hell out of trying to choose a bottle of wine, doesn't it? In fact, Costco carries a Spam gift pack that will make a perfect holiday gift.

"¢ Hawaii consumes about 7 million cans of Spam per year, which comes out to 5 or 6 cans for every man, woman and child. That's a lot of sodium and gelatinous fat, which in turn is thought to contribute to Hawaii's obesity problem. One very popular snack item is the Spam musubi, as shown on the front of this collector's Spam can...

hawaii-spam.jpg

...[photo courtesy of pomai_05]. It's a traditional Japanese rice ball with a slice of Spam on top, wrapped in a belt of seaweed to keep that sodium-laden delicacy safely attached "“ a SEAtbelt, if you will.

mr-spam.jpg"¢ Since 1997, Hormel has sponsored the Waikiki Spam Jam, where it crowns a Mr. or Miss Spam! The 2006 Mr. Spam, a Mr. Wade Balidoy, won a PlayStation and a year's supply of a certain canned meat product.

"¢ Spam is so popular in some communities that it's infiltrated big chain restaurants. The McDonald's breakfast platter in Hawaii includes Spam. In San Francisco's Japan Town, Denny's serves a breakfast combo with Spam, two eggs, steamed rice, and kimchee. You can also substitute Vienna sausages for the Spam "“ or probably negotiate with the waitress to have both.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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