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5 Beloved Ethnic Foods Invented for Americans

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Many of those beloved “ethnic foods” Americans crave so much—Mexican, Chinese, Italian—were actually invented or popularized in the good old USA.

1. General Tso’s Chicken

Photo courtesy jensteele's Flickr photostream

Who is General Tso and why is his chicken everywhere? No one seems to know. While there was a General Tso (or Zuo Zongtang) in 19th-century China, little about him suggested he was a whiz at whipping up deep-fried, sweet ‘n’ spicy chicken. Especially since, by the time it first appeared, he wouldn’t have been alive to taste it.

An influx of Chinese immigrants to the United States in the early half of the 20th century created a need for somewhere to grab some Chinese cuisine. Ordinary Americans, however, didn’t cotton to traditional Hunan cuisine, so one enterprising chef (one Peng Chang-kuei, according to the claims) battered and deep-fried the chicken, and then added sugar to offset the spicy element. Thus, General Tso’s Chicken was born.

2. Nachos

Photo courtesy jeffreyww's Flickr photostream

Sure, tortillas are a Mexican thing, but tortilla chips--and the practice of putting random toppings on them—that’s all-American, baby. Tortilla chips came out of the true mother of invention: needing to sell leftover scraps. The El Zarape Tortilla Factory took their misshapen and unsellable tortillas, cut them up, fried them and sold them for a dime a bag. One man’s trash is another man’s golden fried treasure.

The combination of tortilla chips and melted cheese, however, took place in a Mexican border town. As the story goes, Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya, maître d' of the Victory Club, was closing up the restaurant when a dozen wives of U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan across the border in Eagle Pass, Texas, wandered in after a day of across-the-border shopping. Having little to offer, Anaya ran back to the kitchen and threw together chips, cheese and sliced jalapeno. When the delighted ladies asked the name of the dish, Anaya proclaimed, "Nacho's especiales." The dish became so popular that Anaya gave up the maître d' life to open his own Nacho restaurant. The invention of Nacho-flavored spray cheese is a story for another day.

3. Cashew Chicken

Photo courtesy Kominyetska's Flickr photostream

This Chinese restaurant staple can be traced back to the least Chinese of places: Springfield, Missouri. Chef David Leong, who emigrated from China to Missouri in 1940, struggled to turn his fellow Missourians onto traditional Chinese cuisine. Then he noticed how much the people of Missouri loved their fried chicken. Leong deep-fried chunks of chicken, tossed some oyster sauce and cashews on top and suddenly had a winner. Most places you go now offer the non deep-fried variation. Ask for “Springfield-style Cashew Chicken” and you’ll get the battered and deep-fried original.

4. Spaghetti with Meatballs and Garlic Bread

Photo courtesy Jessica Spengler

Sure, you will find spaghetti noodles in Italy. Red sauce and meatballs too—though not the comically oversized meatballs Americans are accustomed to. What you'll have a harder time finding in Italy is the combination of all three on one plate.

As for garlic bread, the closest thing Italians have to it is bruschetta. After WWII, returning soldiers came back with a hankering for the wondrous bread they enjoyed abroad. To meet the new demand, American restaurants whipped up their own version: toasted white bread with garlic and margarine.

5. Fortune Cookies

Photo courtesy Beth Kanter

The humble fortune cookie has a number of origin stories, none of them beginning in China. Some say it was invented in Los Angeles by baker David Jung back in 1918. He handed out the cookies to homeless people, each containing an uplifting biblical passage within.

Another tale claims the prophesizing pastries came from Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara. In 1907, Mayor of San Francisco James Phelan fired Hagiwara for the offense of being Japanese. A public outcry followed and when Hagiwara was reinstated, he supposedly created little cookies with “Thank You” messages tucked inside for all the people of San Francisco.

What is known for sure is the Lotus Fortune Cookie Company began spitting out the machine-made edible oracles by the late 1960s. China didn’t get a taste of the fortune cookie until it came to the country in 1993, sold as "genuine American fortune cookies,” and thus cementing the cookie’s place in fake Chinese lore.

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5 Things We Know About Stranger Things Season 2
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Netflix

Stranger Things seemed to come out of nowhere to become one of television's standout new series in 2016. Netflix's sometimes scary, sometimes funny, and always exciting homage to '80s pop culture was a binge-worthy phenomenon when it debuted in July 2016. Of course, the streaming giant wasn't going to wait long to bring more Stranger Things to audiences, and a second season was announced a little over a month after its debut—and Netflix just announced that we'll be getting it a few days earlier than expected. Here are five key things we know about the show's sophomore season, which kicks off on October 27.

1. WE'LL BE GETTING EVEN MORE EPISODES.

The first season of Stranger Things consisted of eight hour-long episodes, which proved to be a solid length for the story Matt and Ross Duffer wanted to tell. While season two won't increase in length dramatically, we will be getting at least one extra hour when the show returns in 2017 with nine episodes. Not much is known about any of these episodes, but we do know the titles:

"Madmax"
"The Boy Who Came Back To Life"
"The Pumpkin Patch"
"The Palace"
"The Storm"
"The Pollywog"
"The Secret Cabin"
"The Brain"
"The Lost Brother"

There's a lot of speculation about what each title means and, as usual with Stranger Things, there's probably a reason for each one.

2. THE KIDS ARE RETURNING (INCLUDING ELEVEN).

Stranger Things fans should gear up for plenty of new developments in season two, but that doesn't mean your favorite characters aren't returning. A November 4 photo sent out by the show's Twitter account revealed most of the kids from the first season will be back in 2017, including the enigmatic Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown (the #elevenisback hashtag used by series regular Finn Wolfhard should really drive the point home):

3. THE SHOW'S 1984 SETTING WILL LEAD TO A DARKER TONE.

A year will have passed between the first and second seasons of the show, allowing the Duffer brothers to catch up with a familiar cast of characters that has matured since we last saw them. With the story taking place in 1984, the brothers are looking at the pop culture zeitgeist at the time for inspiration—most notably the darker tone of blockbusters like Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

"I actually really love Temple of Doom, I love that it gets a little darker and weirder from Raiders, I like that it feels very different than Raiders did," Matt Duffer told IGN. "Even though it was probably slammed at the time—obviously now people look back on it fondly, but it messed up a lot of kids, and I love that about that film—that it really traumatized some children. Not saying that we want to traumatize children, just that we want to get a little darker and weirder."

4. IT'S NOT SO MUCH A CONTINUATION AS IT IS A SEQUEL.

When you watch something like The Americans season two, it's almost impossible to catch on unless you've seen the previous episodes. Stranger Things season two will differ from the modern TV approach by being more of a sequel than a continuation of the first year. That means a more self-contained plot that doesn't leave viewers hanging at the end of nine episodes.

"There are lingering questions, but the idea with Season 2 is there's a new tension and the goal is can the characters resolve that tension by the end," Ross Duffer told IGN. "So it's going to be its own sort of complete little movie, very much in the way that Season 1 is."

Don't worry about the two seasons of Stranger Things being too similar or too different from the original, though, because when speaking with Entertainment Weekly about the influences on the show, Matt Duffer said, "I guess a lot of this is James Cameron. But he’s brilliant. And I think one of the reasons his sequels are as successful as they are is he makes them feel very different without losing what we loved about the original. So I think we kinda looked to him and what he does and tried to capture a little bit of the magic of his work.”

5. THE PREMIERE WILL TRAVEL OUTSIDE OF HAWKINS.

Everything about the new Stranger Things episodes will be kept secret until they finally debut later this year, but we do know one thing about the premiere: It won't take place entirely in the familiar town of Hawkins, Indiana. “We will venture a little bit outside of Hawkins,” Matt Duffer told Entertainment Weekly. “I will say the opening scene [of the premiere] does not take place in Hawkins.”

So, should we take "a little bit outside" as literally as it sounds? You certainly can, but in that same interview, the brothers also said they're both eager to explore the Upside Down, the alternate dimension from the first season. Whether the season kicks off just a few miles away, or a few worlds away, you'll get your answer when Stranger Things's second season debuts next month.

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Food
The Gooey History of the Fluffernutter Sandwich

Open any pantry in New England and chances are you’ll find at least one jar of Marshmallow Fluff. Not just any old marshmallow crème, but Fluff; the one manufactured by Durkee-Mower of Lynn, Massachusetts since 1920, and the preferred brand of the northeast. With its familiar red lid and classic blue label, it's long been a favorite guilty pleasure and a kitchen staple beloved throughout the region.

This gooey, spreadable, marshmallow-infused confection is used in countless recipes and found in a variety of baked goods—from whoopie pies and Rice Krispies Treats to chocolate fudge and beyond. And in the beyond lies perhaps the most treasured concoction of all: the Fluffernutter sandwich—a classic New England treat made with white bread, peanut butter, and, you guessed it, Fluff. No jelly required. Or wanted.

There are several claims to the origin of the sandwich. The first begins with Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere—or, not Paul exactly, but his great-great-great-grandchildren Emma and Amory Curtis of Melrose, Massachusetts. Both siblings were highly intelligent and forward-thinkers, and Amory was even accepted into MIT. But when the family couldn’t afford to send him, he founded a Boston-based company in the 1890s that specialized in soda fountain equipment.

He sold the business in 1901 and used the proceeds to buy the entire east side of Crystal Street in Melrose. Soon after he built a house and, in his basement, he created a marshmallow spread known as Snowflake Marshmallow Crème (later called SMAC), which actually predated Fluff. By the early 1910s, the Curtis Marshmallow Factory was established and Snowflake became the first commercially successful shelf-stable marshmallow crème.

Although other companies were manufacturing similar products, it was Emma who set the Curtis brand apart from the rest. She had a knack for marketing and thought up many different ways to popularize their marshmallow crème, including the creation of one-of-a-kind recipes, like sandwiches that featured nuts and marshmallow crème. She shared her culinary gems in a weekly newspaper column and radio show. By 1915, Snowflake was selling nationwide.

During World War I, when Americans were urged to sacrifice meat one day a week, Emma published a recipe for a peanut butter and marshmallow crème sandwich. She named her creation the "Liberty Sandwich," as a person could still obtain his or her daily nutrients while simultaneously supporting the wartime cause. Some have pointed to Emma’s 1918 published recipe as the earliest known example of a Fluffernutter, but the earliest recipe mental_floss can find comes from three years prior. In 1915, the confectioners trade journal Candy and Ice Cream published a list of lunch offerings that candy shops could advertise beyond hot soup. One of them was the "Mallonut Sandwich," which involved peanut butter and "marshmallow whip or mallo topping," spread on lightly toasted whole wheat bread.

Another origin story comes from Somerville, Massachusetts, home to entrepreneur Archibald Query. Query began making his own version of marshmallow crème and selling it door-to-door in 1917. Due to sugar shortages during World War I, his business began to fail. Query quickly sold the rights to his recipe to candy makers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower in 1920. The cost? A modest $500 for what would go on to become the Marshmallow Fluff empire.

Although the business partners promoted the sandwich treat early in the company’s history, the delicious snack wasn’t officially called the Fluffernutter until the 1960s, when Durkee-Mower hired a PR firm to help them market the sandwich, which resulted in a particularly catchy jingle explaining the recipe.

So who owns the bragging rights? While some anonymous candy shop owner was likely the first to actually put the two together, Emma Curtis created the early precursors and brought the concept to a national audience, and Durkee-Mower added the now-ubiquitous crème and catchy name. And the Fluffernutter has never lost its popularity.

In 2006, the Massachusetts state legislature spent a full week deliberating over whether or not the Fluffernutter should be named the official state sandwich. On one side, some argued that marshmallow crème and peanut butter added to the epidemic of childhood obesity. The history-bound fanatics that stood against them contended that the Fluffernutter was a proud culinary legacy. One state representative even proclaimed, "I’m going to fight to the death for Fluff." True dedication, but the bill has been stalled for more than a decade despite several revivals and subsequent petitions from loyal fans.

But Fluff lovers needn’t despair. There’s a National Fluffernutter Day (October 8) for hardcore fans, and the town of Somerville, Massachusetts still celebrates its Fluff pride with an annual What the Fluff? festival.

"Everyone feels like Fluff is part of their childhood," said self-proclaimed Fluff expert and the festival's executive director, Mimi Graney, in an interview with Boston Magazine. "Whether born in the 1940s or '50s, or '60s, or later—everyone feels nostalgic for Fluff. I think New Englanders in general have a particular fondness for it."

Today, the Fluffernutter sandwich is as much of a part of New England cuisine as baked beans or blueberry pie. While some people live and die by the traditional combination, the sandwich now comes in all shapes and sizes, with the addition of salty and savory toppings as a favorite twist. Wheat bread is as popular as white, and many like to grill their sandwiches for a touch of bistro flair. But don't ask a New Englander to swap out their favorite brand of marshmallow crème. That’s just asking too Fluffing much.

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