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Dietribes: Cupcakes

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During college I worked part-time at a daycare. My first day I was with the two-year-olds, and someone's mother brought in cupcakes. The kids regarded the cupcakes warily, then one by one they applied them directly to their faces. Forget taking the paper off, they felt it was sufficient to open their mouths a tiny bit in trout-like fashion, and smush the cupcake, icing first, all over their little faces. After hosing off the squirts, I can give you some advice: despite folklore, cupcakes and toddlers don't mix. But in a less messy fashion, here are some interesting facts about those nevertheless yummy sugary treats:

"¢ According to Crazy About Cupcakes, "The term 'cupcake' is first mentioned in E. Leslie's 'Receipts' of 1828. Breaking with tradition of weighing ingredients at this time the ingredients began to be measured in cups. According to Baking in America by Greg Patent, this was revolutionary because of the tremendous time it saved in the kitchen. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America explains that the cup name had a double meaning because of the practice of baking in small containers—including tea cups."

"¢ Though its true origins are disputed, Hostess cupcakes can now brag about being the best-selling snack cake in history. In 1950 baking executive D.R. "Doc" Rice added the signature seven squiggles and vanilla-crème filling that makes Hostess familiar to us today. And in a move reminiscent of the Twinkie Defense, in 1985 a man sued Hostess claiming that their cupcakes caused him to fall out of a tree and break his bones. Yep.

"¢ American hysteria for cupcakes is well documented. Hillary Clinton even recently promised every American a yearly cupcake on her birthday. But not everyone is so pro-cupcake. In fact, some schools have chosen to ban them as a result of rising rates of obesity.

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"¢ Of course, what would a true trend be without a trendy HQ? Magnolia Bakery in New York sees lines around the block for their popular pastries, at times bringing in over $40,000 a week in cupcake sales. It has also, of course, been the inspiration for a very famous SNL Digital Short.

"¢ Speaking of lazy (Sunday or not), there have been several campaigns to get microwave cupcakes off the ground, including Duncan Cups in 1991 and Betty Crocker MicroRave Singles. In the end, it seems the old fashioned way is the best. And if you're planning on doing some baking for others, what's the best way to transport a cupcake? Check this out.

"¢ If you're interested in bucking fashion, forget a traditional cake (how pedestrian!) and consider having cupcakes for your wedding.

"¢ Still can't get enough? Check out this link. Although cupcakes are seen as a kind of wholesome American goodness, one of the editors of this blog is a contributing editor for Penthouse and a former sex columnist for the Village Voice. Still, look at those cupcakes!

Does anyone have any cupcake stories to share? Memories? Mishaps?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

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

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

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Dietribes: Cabbage
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• 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.

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