“Can You Pour Bourbon on My Doughnut?”

Doughnuts in Louisville

Two things had to happen once I decided to move to Louisville: I had to try bourbon and I had to try fried chicken. I did not expect to have both on a doughnut.

At 10:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning, the sign in the window of the yellow-and-pink brick building of Hi-Five Doughnuts on Main Street reads: Come & Get It. Once you walk past the pink door with images of sprinkles painted on it, the racks behind the glass window at the cashier have a spread of caramel apple doughnuts as well as beer-glazed doughnuts with mini chocolate chips and pretzels.

The wait was 15 minutes, but I knew what I wanted as soon as I walked in—the KY Fried Buttermilk … Read the rest

There Are No Polite Canadians When it Comes to Grape-Stomping Glory

Wine in Oliver, B.C.

As the grapes squish between my toes, I feel two things: slightly cold and very sticky. But mostly, I’m worried about the clock.

This is not exactly old-school winemaking, in which stompers tread slowly and carefully to avoid crushing the seeds, which can ruin the taste of the finished wine. It’s more like an episode of I Love Lucy.

I’m well past my ankles in a barrel of grapes, to be sure, but not at a winery. I’m on an outdoor stage in Oliver, Canada, with an orange feather boa wrapped around my neck as I stomp for glory, racing against time. The challenge? To coax as much juice from these grapes as possible in five raucous minutes, alternating with two … Read the rest

The Life and Legend of India’s Bandit Queen

On a chill February day in 1983, a 20-year-old young woman known as Phoolan Devi—literally, Flower Goddess—walked out of the forested ravines of the Chambal River valley and handed over her gun. She bowed to images of Gandhi and the goddess Durga and surrendered herself to the Chief Minister and Chief of Police of Madhya Pradesh state in central India. The cheering crowd of 8,000 people gathered that day—journalists; politicians; some 300 cops; and others from across the dry, impoverished center of the world’s largest democracy—knew Phoolan Devi as a hero, a bandit, a murderess, and a goddess long before they saw her in the flesh. Phoolan Devi, India’s celebrated Bandit Queen, was not a woman, but a legend.

Born to a low-caste household in … Read the rest

The Diving Horses of Atlantic City

For nearly half a century, Atlantic City, in New Jersey, United States, was home to an attraction almost too fantastical to believe—an apparently fearless horse with a young woman on its back would leap off a tower some 40 feet high into a pool of water below. The stunt took place at Atlantic City's popular venue Steel Pier, where trained horses took the plunge up to four times a day and seven days a week.

The idea of the diving horse was invented in Texas by ''Doctor'' William Frank Carver, a 19th century sharpshooter who toured the wild west organizing shows with trained animals and shooting exhibitions. The story goes that in 1881, Carver was crossing a wooden bridge over Platte River in Nebraska when the … Read the rest

The Double-Barreled Cannon of Athens

In front of the City Hall of Athens, in Georgia, United States, stands an unusual cannon from the American Civil War. It’s a double-barreled cannon, but unlike other multiple-barrel cannons of the past, the double-barreled cannon of Athens was designed to fire two solid cannonballs connected together by a length of iron chain. The two barrels pointed slightly away from each other, so that when they are fired together the cannonballs would spread to the full length of the chain and mow down enemy soldiers like a scythe cutting wheat on a field, or so was the idea.

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Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn/Flickr

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The Art of Mediaeval Book Repairing

In the early Middle Ages, books were made from animal hides known as parchment, rather than from paper. Preparing the parchment was a delicate business. The freshly skinned hide is first washed to remove blood and grime, and then soaked in a strong alkali solution to loosen out the hairs. After staying in the de-hairing solution for more than a week, the skin is attached to a wooden frame and stretched tight like a drum. While the skin is drying, the parchment maker would take a sharp knife and scrap the skin to remove the last of the hair and get the skin to the right thickness. This was the most delicate part. Too much pressure during the scrapping process or a slip of the knife … Read the rest

Signal Hill: The Birthplace of Modern Communications

Overlooking the harbour of St John's, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, is a massive piece of rock towering 140 meters above the Atlantic Ocean. The rock, known as Signal Hill, stands on St John's eastern shore across a narrow waterway that leads into the harbour. To the north lies Quidi Vidi Lake, and to the west lies the city towards which the hill descends gently in ridges and valleys. It was on top of this hill, in December 1901, that Guglielmo Marconi stood to receive the world’s first wireless transatlantic transmission.

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Cabot Tower on Signal Hill. Photo credit: Michel Rathwell/Flickr

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Is This the Syrup We’ve Been Waiting For?

Hickory syrup in Indiana

My drive to work in Indiana is mostly flat, mostly corn and soybeans, mostly uninterrupted. So when one of my co-workers mentions she’s made a locally foraged syrup, similar to maple but different, using the local hickory trees, I’m ready for it: I’m ready for change.

The bottle she gives me is lighter in color than most maple syrup; she explains that rather than tapping trees and letting sap drip out, foragers in Indiana collect naturally shed shagbark from hickory trees and steep it in a simple syrup—the sweetness comes from regular table sugar, but the thick, smoky, tree flavor comes from the hickory bark.

The syrup begins as fallen bark, which needs to be scrubbed to remove external dirt and growing … Read the rest

London’s Cabmen’s Shelters

Scattered throughout the streets of London, often overlooked, are small green sheds that have been offering shelter and hot food to the city’s cab drivers since 1875.

In those times, cab drivers rode horse-drawn carriages where the passengers sat inside while the poor cabbie had to sit on the top, exposed to the elements. But the drivers couldn’t just park their cabs by the side of the road and grab a quick drink at a public house, because the law forbade them to leave their carriages unattended. Some cabmen therefore employed young lads whose job was to look after the cab while they were away, as well as help carry the luggage and do other menial jobs.

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A Cabmen's shelter at Russell Square, London. Photo credit: Read the rest

There’s Always Something to Do If You’re Not Averse to Day Drinking

New Zealand Pale Ale in Moscow

Heavy, almost tropical late summer rain forced us to abandon our plans of meandering around Gorky Park. Still peaky from last night’s intake of Russian imperial stout, I feigned disappointment. It was my second-to-last day in Moscow, and as a first-time visitor, I had failed. Kremlin line—too long. Ostankino—turned away by grumbling guards for arriving late. Red Square—fenced off and full of scaffolding ahead of a military festival.

Antipodeans aren’t averse to day drinking. I needed only a gentle nudge from my friend Nikita to get us out of the downpour and into Vanya Nalyot, a craft beer bar hidden in the city’s former Red October compound. Now a red-brick maze of bars and galleries, the factory once churned out … Read the rest

The Laksa Origin Debate, Borneo Edition

Laksa in Sarawak

I had done a bit of research about Sarawak laksa before arriving. Not that I was any the wiser. Depending on who you believe, the most authentic pastes have 20, 30, 36 or even more components, among them garlic and lemongrass, as well as various spices.

It’s often said the first laksa vendor in Sarawak—a Malaysian state on the northwest coast of Borneo—was a Cantonese man who moved to Kuching from Indonesia at the end of World War II. He gave or sold his recipe to a Cantonese lady, who may or may not have passed it to a Mr. Tan who, in the 1960s, made a fortune selling factory-made “Swallow” brand laksa paste. None of these creation myths mention the other forms … Read the rest

The Devil’s Corkscrews

In the mid-1800s, ranchers across Sioux County, in the US state of Nebraska, began unearthing strange, spiral structures of hardened rock-like material sticking vertically out of the ground. The spirals were as thick as an arm and some of them were taller than a man. Not knowing what they were, the ranchers began calling them “devil’s corkscrew.”

The puzzling structures first came to the notice of the scientific community through geologists Dr. E. H. Barbour in 1891, when he was asked to investigate a nine-foot long specimen that a local rancher had discovered on his property along the Niobrara River. Barbour found that the spirals were actually sand-filled tubes with the outer walls made of some white fibrous material. Barbour knew they were fossils but of … Read the rest

Iligan, The City of Majestic Waterfalls

The city of Iligan, in the Northern Mindanao region of Philippines, is one of the country’s major city and the industrial center of the south. It has many heavy industries producing steel, tinplate, and cement. It also produces hydroelectric power for the entire Mindanao region. It’s surprising hence, that an industrial city such as Iligan should be known for its natural beauty.

The city is situated by the Bohol Sea which curves into the northern coast of Mindanao Island forming a small bay called the Iligan Bay. The bay lies to the west. To the east of the city lies flat cultivated coastal land which gives way to steep volcanic hills and mountains. These mountains are home to numerous cold springs and waterfalls. Officially, there are … Read the rest