In Pictures: Rose Dumplings


How Chocolate Became A Sweet Consort To Valentine’s Day

Jeff Koehler wrote . . . . .

A heart-shaped box of chocolate is a sign of love, a symbol — and often tool — of romance, and an intrinsic part of Valentine’s Day.

From at least the time of the Aztecs, chocolate has been seen as an aphrodisiac. So it’s reasonable to assume that it has been connected to love’s dedicated day of celebration for many centuries. But, that isn’t the case.

The roots of Valentine’s Day are ancient but far from clear, and likely originated in the pagan Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia. Those Romans, though, exchanged not candies but whippings — part of a complicated fertility ritual that began with sacrificing a goat and dog.

This morphed into a tamer Christian feast day in A.D. 496, when Pope Gelasius I commemorated a martyred saint, Valentine. Or saints. In the third century, the Roman emperor Claudius II executed two men named Valentine on Feb. 14th, albeit in different years.

It was Canterbury Tales author Geoffrey Chaucer who first specifically linked the holiday with love birds — literally. In his 1382 dream poem The Parliament of Fowls, a large group of birds gather on “Seynt Valentynes day” to choose their mates.

Love-gazing poets followed Chaucer’s lead, helping to popularize the amorous day through tales of courtly love, chivalric knights and fair maidens. Amateur bards took up their quills, too, and followed the tradition of writing verse to their paramours for the occasion — teasing couplets and sappy sonnets often surreptitiously passed in early valentines.

By the mid-19th century, Feb. 14 had become the day in Britain (and the U.S.) on which people expressed their affection by exchanging lavish cards decorated with lace, ribbons and plump, bow-and-arrow-wielding Cupids.

Amongst these maudlin missives arrived chocolate, with its lustier undertones.

From Europe’s first contact with it, chocolate had a reputation for aphrodisiac powers.

Bernal Díaz Castillo, chronicler of Hernan Cortéz´s conquest of Mexico, claimed that during a banquet with Moctezuma, the great Aztec emperor was served gold cups “with a certain drink made of cacao, which they said was for success with woman.” At first the Spaniard paid little attention, but then “saw that they brought more than 50 great jars of prepared cacao with its foam, and he drank that.”

Mugs of the frothy drink proved immediately popular back in Spain. And chocolate was embraced with equal passion when it traveled beyond Spain’s borders, going to Italy, France (perhaps in 1615, when Anne of Austria, chocolate lover and daughter of the Spanish king, married Louis XIII), and, step by step, across Europe.

Wherever chocolate went, its reputation as a sexual stimulant seemed to follow. Giacomo Casanova called chocolate the “elixir of love” and the notorious Marquis de Sade celebrated its potency.

In Restoration England, the learned physician Henry Stubbe wrote in The Natural History of Chocolate (1662) of the “great use of Chocolate in Venery [sexual indulgence], and for supplying the Testicles with a Balsam, or a Sap.”

Stubbe not only advocated the drink, but often prepared it for the insatiable Charles II, whose notorious appetite for sex was matched only by that for chocolate. In 1669, the merry monarch, England’s first chocoholic, spent £229 10s. 8d. on chocolate. That’s significantly more than he spent on tea (just £6), or even what his chief mistress received for an allowance (£200). For most people, though, chocolate was still an extravagance out of reach.

By the time the more staid reign of Queen Victoria began in 1837, that had changed. Valentine’s Day was hitting its stride, thanks to the rise of the inexpensive penny post and mass-produced cards, and chocolate had become affordable to the middle class. Its popularity was soaring.

In 1847, the British chocolate maker J.S. Fry & Sons produced the first modern-day bar —that is, chocolate to eat rather than drink. The company combined cacao powder and sugar with cacao butter (the fat extracted from cacao beans) to form a moldable paste. A few years later, the company sold the first filled chocolates with flavored centers.

But its rival Cadbury would ultimately be the one to connect Valentine’s Day with chocolate.

Tapping into the Victorian fondness for ornamentation, Richard Cadbury launched “Fancy Boxes” of chocolates in 1861. Inside, under a heavily decorated lid, assorted bonbons filled with marzipan, chocolate-flavored ganache and fruity crèmes nestled in lace doilies.

It didn’t take long—1868 according to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets — for Cadbury to create a Fancy Box in the shape of a heart for the romantic holiday. Once the chocolates had been eaten, the boxes were deeply prized by sentimental Victorians, who stored love letters, lockets of hair, and other treasured mementos inside.

The idea took wing globally and became a lasting commercial phenomenon. In the United States this year, some 40 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolates will be sold for Valentine’s Day. Over half of those are from Russell Stover — many with lids festooned in enough roses, red satin and lace to please even the most lovesick Victorian.

Modern science has found little evidence of chocolate’s purported libido-boosting properties. (That’s not say it doesn’t have highly potent psychological ones.) Regardless, for holiday celebrants, chocolate retains its allure.

According to the National Confectioners Association, U.S. consumers will shell out around $1 billion for Valentine’s Day candy this year. At least 75 percent of that will be on chocolate.

And while flowers might be an even greater symbol of love, an overwhelming number of Americas prefer chocolate to a bouquet of blossoms, some 69 percent.

As Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz famously once said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”

Source: npr

Baked Potatoes with Onion and Cheese


2 large baking potatoes, weighing about 8 oz each
2 red onions, halved
olive oil
1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
salt and black pepper
1 Tbsp butter or 1–2 Tbsp milk


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. Scrub and score the potatoes, then place them in 2 small roasting pan with the onions. Drizzle the onions with olive oil then bake for 1 hour, or until the potatoes are done.
  3. Slice the potatoes in half and scoop the soft centers out into a food processor. Add the baked onion, most of the cheese, seasonings, and butter or milk and process until smooth in consistency.
  4. Pile the filling back into the potatoes, top with the remaining cheese, and return to the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or brown lightly under a hot broiler.

Makes 2 servings.

Source: Onions

Video: This Robot Farmer Could Grow All the Food You Need

Watch video at You Tube (1:09 minutes) . . . .

Heart Disease Can Also Affect Your Feet, Kidneys and Brain

In February, American Heart Month raises awareness about heart disease. But “heart disease” is a catch-all term that refers to numerous problems, many of which are related to hardening of the arteries.

Hardening of the arteries doesn’t just happen in the heart, noted Dr. Ali AbuRahma, secretary of the Society for Vascular Surgery, it happens all over the body. The progressive disease, also known as arteriosclerosis, causes plaque to start clogging up the arteries, making it more difficult for oxygen-rich blood to flow throughout the body. That is bad for the heart, but also dangerous for the legs, feet, kidneys and the brain.

Arteriosclerosis usually doesn’t affect every blood vessel uniformly, Dr. AbuRahma said. In most people with arteriosclerosis, there will be a general hardening of the arteries throughout the body, but some arteries will have more plaque than others.

When this disease gets worse in the legs and feet, it is called peripheral arterial disease, also known as PAD. Unfortunately, PAD is very common in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 8.5 million Americans have PAD, including up to 20 percent of those older than 60. When not enough oxygen-rich blood is pumping through the legs and feet, the feet may develop wounds that won’t heal. In advanced cases, patients may face amputation.

Hardening of the arteries may have no symptoms at all until the disease has become advanced. However, some people may have leg pain when they walk, a symptom of PAD. These patients should inform their physician, who may order a painless, non-invasive test called an ankle-brachial Doppler test that measures the blood pressure in the ankles.

The good news is that hardening of the arteries is manageable.

“We recommend that everyone take a few sensible health measures to keep their veins and arteries healthy,” said Dr. AbuRahma. “First, know your ‘numbers,’ that is, manage your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Don’t smoke and get regular physical activity. Try to lower your stress level, too.”

For those whose disease has advanced, there is still hope, he added.

“Vascular specialists are trained to restore blood flow,” he said, “but most of our long-term patients never need anything other than medication and good health habits. But if non-invasive treatments no longer work, we can install minimally invasive balloons or stents to unblock blood vessels, or perform open procedures, in which we create bypasses around a blocked artery.”

Those who have vascular disease should be under the care of a vascular specialist for the rest of their lives, he added. “But if you want to live to be a healthy old age, the best thing you can do is to really follow your doctor’s orders. Don’t tune it out when your doctor repeats advice you may have heard before. Knowing your numbers, exercising and not smoking can make a world of difference.”

Source: The Society for Vascular Surgery

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