Gingerbread: Ageless Treat of Spice and Structure

Cakey or crunchy, shaped like a little man or a huge candy mansion, gingerbread is a delicious hallmark of the December holidays in many parts of the world. For those who are eternally grateful to whoever made it acceptable to eat pieces of cookie so large that they resemble the side of a house, the history of gingerbread is a great story. At the least, it makes for intelligent conversation at parties, to overcome prejudice against people with cookie crumbs on our shirts.

Ginger, the essential ingredient, is a root known for millennia in the Middle and Far East. It was, and still is, considered medicine to combat nausea ...

How to Train a Truffle Puppy (and Why You Might Want to)

Ever hear the one about Tennessee-grown French truffles?

In 2007, the proprietor of Blackberry Farm in east Tennessee (a resort destination on a National Geographic Traveler Tour of a Lifetime), took a call from Tom Michaels, an academic who had recently moved into the area. After studying Tennessee's soil, Michaels believed the climate and terroir (slightly acidic, with a lot of limestone) would be a great place to cultivate the second-rarest truffles in the world, the black Périgord from France.

Now, truffles cost thousands per pound, partly due to their rarity. It's not easy to find truffles, which grow underground. Foragers search using specially trained animals who can sniff out the distinct musty aroma ...

Could Gardening Offer the Key to a Happier, Healthier Life?

My grandmother used to say, “I’ve never seen an old gardener,” referring to how recreational gardening seems to keep people in high spirits, no matter what their condition. Research is showing that gardening appears to have disease-preventing, mental-enhancing superpowers, like meditation or eating tons of produce. Now, organizations are using that simple but powerful tool in creative ways.

This year, the Italian Home for Children in Boston, which serves children who have experienced extreme trauma, and in many cases have been removed from their homes, launched a program using gardening’s therapeutic power. The Italian Home had planted a tiny garden for years on its seven-acre property. The ...

Market Offers a Gleaning Model for the Modern Age

Gleaning—the act of collecting unharvested food that farmers leave in the fields to feed the hungry—dates back to at least biblical times. The ancient practice was a safety net to ensure that people wouldn’t go hungry in fragmented societies without centralized services for those in need. It has religious roots—the Torah commands farmers to leave some crops unharvested and Ruth gleaned to stay alive in the Hebrew Bible story. Jesus gleaned.

In the modern world, big farms don’t encourage people meandering around. But anti-hunger organizations still practice loose forms of gleaning and many farmers still love participating in this time-honored practice. FreshFarm Markets, an American farmers’ market ...

Mind Over Palate: 6 Ways to Make the Science of Taste Work at Home

Even before Marcel Proust famously wrote a seven-volume novel from memories triggered by the taste of a madeleine, chefs have understood there’s more to tasting food than just flavor. Every day our minds create perceptions that affect how we register food’s deliciousness, working alongside our brain’s hardwiring.

Neurogastronomy is the newly named branch of science asserting that taste and smell happen primarily in the brain, rather than the mouth and nose. It’s mind-hacking for foodies. As Gordon M. Shepherd, author of Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor, explained in a 2013 interview: "The brain turns [food] into a representation that wasn't in the original molecules. The brain is ...

When Employees Buy Restaurant Ingredients at Cost, They Get More Than Better Food

Sometimes it takes just one person to push an obvious solution to a complex problem. When it comes to getting nutritious food to restaurant-industry workers—the dishwashers and busers most diners never see—Chef Evan Hanczor just might be that person.

Restaurants employ many workers who are, ironically, undernourished. (At the recent James Beard Food Conference, one chef of a fine restaurant flat-out stated, “most of my workers are undocumented.”) Restaurants have lots of buying power, and can purchase fresh ingredients for low cost because they do it in bulk, directly from the seller with no grocery-store middleman.

At egg restaurant in Brooklyn, Hanczor allows all 25 employees to buy virtually ...

Nonprofits Train Veterans For a New Challenge: Farming

America needs farmers—100,000 in the next decade to replace retiring farmers, whose average age is currently 57. And America needs jobs for veterans, more than a half-million of whom are unemployed, struggling to translate military skills to civilian jobs or make other adjustments to civilian life after active duty.

Today veterans who want to try farming have a new opportunity. The Farmer Veteran Coalition and Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture are launching a veteran-farming program modeled on military-reserve weekends. The new program's application was released last week; ten veterans will be chosen to participate.

Under the yearlong Veteran Farmer Reserve Program, veterans attend monthly weekend workshops and field trips ...

Are Highway Rest Stops Pollinators’ Last Hope?

These days it seems that the harder it is to grow plants in a location, the more people want to do it. Urban agriculture and rooftop gardens are thriving in cities worldwide, requiring some to valiantly haul tons of dirt to the top of many-storied buildings. Astronauts farm in space (not the ick-factor kind that Matt Damon does in The Martian). In New York City, the Lowline, an under-development underground recreation park, is working on growing pineapples beneath the concrete on the Lower East Side.

These are all amazing projects, with beauty and research that will benefit pollinators such as bees and Monarch butterflies that ...

Why Food Needs a Plank on Party Platforms

An American election happens about one year from today, and so far the only attention food has received is reports on what the candidates eat.

Jeb Bush is paleo (great news, because with his recent staff cuts it seems he will have plenty of time to hunt and gather in 2016). Ben Carson is a vegetarian. Ted Cruz likes to cook bacon on a machine gun (I knew him in college and even then, stuff like this was happening). Hopefully we've come far enough as a country in 24 years that we won't have another Hillary Clinton cookie bakeoff (or hopefully, she has a new

The Future of Tipping

Tipping has reached a tipping point in America. But so far it’s unclear where it's going.

Each state decides its own minimum wage and most (43) have lower minimum wage levels for workers in tipped jobs than other workers. That means restaurant service staff lives depend on tips. In New York, for example, the minimum wage for tipped workers is $5. For non-tipped workers, it’s $9. Some tipped workers make as little as $2.13 per hour.

Coming out on the no-tip side, influential restaurateur and hospitality maven Danny Meyer announced last week that he is ridding his 13 restaurants of tipping next year, promising to pay his 1,800 ...

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