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Dietribes: Wine

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Because I indulged heavily in the stuff last night, I'll let others do the eloquent speaking for me on the subject of this most beloved beverage:

"Wine makes a man better pleased with himself. I do not say that it makes him more pleasing to others.... This is one of the disadvantages of wine, it makes a man mistake words for thoughts." "“Samuel Johnson (1709"“1784)

"Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter, Sermons and soda-water the day after." "“Lord Byron (1788"“1824)

Being as this is such an expansive topic, I'll try and stick to some facts and figure you may not know about wine. To learn more about the basics, check out this site or, you know, this ole standby.

"¢ There are plenty of famous wine advocates besides Bacchus and Johnny "Wino Forever" Depp. In fact, one was a Founding Father. According Jay McInerney's New York Times review of John Hailman's Thomas Jefferson on Wine, "Jefferson was not only a connoisseur, but a proselytizer. He planted dozens of grape varieties at Monticello, and though he never succeeded in producing a vintage, he predicted that someday America would compete with France and Italy as a wine-producing nation. He believed wine was a healthier beverage than the whiskey and brandy that were consumed in such vast quantities in the colonies, and while in and out of office he pushed for lower import duties. 'No nation is drunken where wine is cheap,' he declared, 'and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage. It is, in truth, the only antidote to the bane of whiskey.'" Jefferson even installed wine elevators that led directly to the wine cellar from his dinning room.

"¢ Another famous oenophile is Robert M. Parker, Jr., who started the aptly-named Wine Advocate, which has made him one of the most influential wine critics in the world. His naming the 1982 Bordeaux as one of the greatest vintages ever led it to become one of the most expensive wines to date. However, regarding cheap wine, anyone who's ever picked up a bottle (or three) of "Two Buck Chuck" might appreciate this article on Fred Franzia, "The Scourge of Napa Valley" (not to be confused with Franzia boxed wine).

sideways.jpg"¢ Of course, not all casual mentions of certain wines have led to positive outcomes. Merlot—once America's most preferred wine—was suddenly made uncool by the movie Sideways, where lead character Miles is the merlot-hating, pinot-loving wine snob who uttered the famous line, "If anyone orders merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any (expletive) merlot!" which led to an actual drop in sales of his most hated pedestrian wine.

"¢ Speaking of sales, wine consumption in the US has steadily been rising since the 1930s (when raw data was first tracked), with occasional dips here and there. As of 2006, an average American is said to consume approximately 2.39 gallons of wine a year, with a total of 716 million gallons sipped, and occasionally gulped, nationwide.

"¢ To cork or not to cork? That is the question at the heart of a new movement set on introducing screw caps to wine bottles instead of traditional corks. Read more about the debate here. If the idea of leaving the cork and corkscrew in the past unsettles you, find solace by perusing the Virtual Corkscrew Museum.

"¢ Where would a discussion of wine be without a nod to the maybe-not-classy-but-sure-good invention of boxed wine? Developed by an Australian family winery in the 1960s, the concept of bagged wine, a modern version of the traditional European wine 'bladder' (a leather pouch that collapses as the wine is poured, keeping air out) was born. "The bag-in-a-box concept took off. In 1967 Penfold Wines and C H Malpas patented a plastic, airless flow-tap welded into a metallised plastic bag. This innovation allowed the bag to stay in the box and be tapped like a traditional wine cask, and that's the version most popular today."

OK Flossy readers ... what are some suggestions you have for someone just getting into wine appreciation? What are your favorite (and most reasonably priced) wines? And finally, any good wine-related shenanigans to share?

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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