Dietribes: Cookies


From the Dutch koekje (diminutive of koek, "cake") we have what we know so fondly as the cookie. Whether you like them chewy or crunchy, dense or like air, here are some facts about famous cookies to whet your sugary appetite.

"¢ The first "cookies" were used in simple oven tests. Eventually it was discovered these little balls of batter were delicious to eat as well. According to this site, "Early American cookbooks show that the earlier versions were called 'Tea Cakes.' Our simple 'butter cookies' strongly resemble the English tea cakes and the Scotch shortbread. The English also call them biscuits, the Spanish call them galletas, the Germans call them kels and in Italy there are several names to identify various forms of cookies, including Amaretti and Biscotti."

"¢ In the 1930s, Ruth Wakefield, who with her husband owned and operated the Toll House (yes, that Toll House) Inn near Whitman, MA, added crumbles of semi-sweet chocolate to her dough to make a "chocolate cookie" ... voila! The chocolate-chip cookie was born. She sold the recipe to Nestle and as part of the deal she received all the chocolate she'd ever need. To this day, the chocolate-chip cookie is still the preferred cookie of choice in the United States.

girl-scout-cookies.jpg"¢ Around the office here, we just got our deliveries of Girl Scout cookies. As a young lass I too hounded my parents' friends and co-workers to buy from me, continuing a tradition that was started by the Mistletoe Troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma, which baked cookies and sold them in its high school cafeteria as a service project in December 1917. Girl Scout cookies were not sold during WWII because of food shortages, but I would venture to say that their over-all popularity hasn't been hurt by this sabbatical. Today, the best sellers are the Thin Mints (25%), followed by Samoas (19%) (no real surprise there!)

"¢ Has anyone heard of the "super-secret Neiman Marcus cookie recipe"? I remember my grandmother procuring it many years ago by way of a friend of hers who said she paid some ungodly amount of money for it (or not). Anyway ... the recipe isn't a secret at all, and can be found here. Try it out for yourself -- I remember thinking it was OK, but how can something NOT be good when it includes a whole stick of butter?

cookie-monster.jpg"¢ One of the greatest purveyors of cookie-mania is, of course, the Cookie Monster. Originally created as a fierce monster for commercials (that sadly never aired), Jim Henson eventually allowed the Cookie Monster to join the cast of Sesame Street, to great success. Besides cookies, the monster eats plenty of other food, especially since concerns for obesity have restricted his appetite. Also, there are rumors the Monster has entered rehab for his cookie obsession.

"¢ I really enjoyed all of the recipe suggestions for sweet potatoes that were sent in a few weeks ago, so this week I'll ask: what is your favorite cookie recipe? Classics are welcome, but does anyone have a recipe with a twist? Also, does anyone have a good vegan recipe I can whip up for a friend?

[Previous Dietribes: Strawberries, Macaroni & Cheese, McIntosh Apples, Smoothies, Coffee, The Sweet Potato and Eggs]

"˜Dietribes' appears every Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

University of Pittsburgh
Researchers Create Motorized Wheelchair Made for the Water Park
University of Pittsburgh
University of Pittsburgh

Despite advances in technology, there are many aspects of the world that remain inaccessible to people with disabilities. But researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working to make one activity easier for people who use motorized wheelchairs: navigating water parks.

The average motorized wheelchair has a number of electrical and battery components that can’t get wet, limiting who can access the joys of splash parks and pools. But a new wheelchair that uses compressed air instead of a heavy battery could change that, Gizmodo recently reported.

Created through a joint research project between University of Pittsburgh engineers, the university’s medical center, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the PneuChair is lighter and quicker to charge than traditional motorized chairs. It can also be repaired with basic hardware tools if something breaks in the midst of all the splashing.

The 80-pound chair (a traditional device can weigh up to 400 pounds) can travel about three miles on one charge, about a third of the maximum distance of an electric mobility device. Another benefit: It only takes 10 minutes to recharge rather than eight hours.

The university's Human Engineering Research Laboratories is also working on a scooter version for people who don't need the assistance of a full chair. “The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, water parks, beaches or pools is transformative,” lab director Rory Cooper told the university's press service.

The PneuChair was designed in part for use at Morgan’s Inspiration Island, an upcoming water park in San Antonio that’s designed for people with disabilities. The accessible splash park—which is part of Morgan’s Wonderland, a fully accessible theme park—will initially offer 10 of the chairs to its guests for use while they’re there.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Dietribes: Cabbage

• Cabbages are derived from the wild mustard plant of the Mediterranean region, and have been popular since ancient times. Cato the Elder praised the cabbage for its many medicinal uses.

• Cabbages are highly nutritious, containing large amounts of Vitamin C, folate and fiber. That and its low calorie count is why some people use cabbage on weight-loss diets.

• However, the cabbage is also known to have a certain undesirable gastric side effect. As Nicholas Culpeper said in A Complete Herbal (1653) "Cabbages are extremely windy, whether you take them as meat or as medicine, as windy meat as can be eaten, unless you eat bag-pipes or bellows."

• Remember "freedom fries"? That wasn't the first time the name of one of our foods has been attempted to be changed because of political fervor. During World War I, Americans renamed sauerkraut "liberty cabbage."

• No one knows exactly how the Cabbagetown neighborhood in Atlanta got its name, though stories include the idea that the original poor Scotch-Irish residents (workers at the nearby cotton mill) would grow cabbages in their front yards, and that the smell of cooked cabbage was a nuisance (and later a point of pride). Other apocryphal suggestions include a train derailing or a Model T car overturning and spilling cabbages everywhere for people to snatch up, shouting "Free Cabbages!"

• Georgia has another cabbage connection - Cabbage Patch Kids, which were originally called Little People. In the late 1970s, art student Xavier Roberts started creating "soft sculptures," which he later expanded on by giving them birth certificates and allowing "adoptions." In 1982 the name changed to Cabbage Patch. By the mid-80s, the dolls went on record as having the most successful and in-demand introduction of a toy ever.

• Though cabbages have often been thought of throughout history as a cheap food, that's certainly not true in Northern Canada, where a cabbage can cost $28. The northern Canadian territory of Nunavut is so remote that anything not a product of hunting and gathering must be flown in.

• By the way, that corned beef and cabbage you cook up for St. Patricks Day? Not actually Irish. Though corned beef was made in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries, most Irish families were too poor to eat it. Instead it went to British citizens as well as the British and U.S. military. These days, the Irish reportedly find the dish just plain boring.

• Cabbages can have a killer instinct - genetically modified cabbages can produce scorpion poison that kills caterpillars when they bite leaves. But don't worry, the toxin is modified so it isn’t harmful to humans. (I like that the title of the article is "Venomous Cabbage"!)

• Another way to get rid of pests in your cabbage? Er, human urine. According to a 2007 study, "Our results show that human urine could be used as a fertilizer for cabbage and does not pose any significant hygienic threats or leave any distinctive flavor in food products." Good to know?

• The largest cabbage on record was called "The Beast" and weighed 127 pounds. Reportedly it wasn't actually particularly tasty, so it ended up as compost rather than on anyone's plate.

• How do you like to eat your cabbages, Flossers? And have you found a way to counteract their less-desirable side-effects?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.


More from mental floss studios