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Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead or All Souls Day, has has been an important festival in Mesoamerica since pre-Columbian times.

It is a time of festivity and joy, not mourning. Families gather to welcome the souls of the dearly departed—human and animal—who return from the spirit world for an annual visit home to the loved ones they’ve left behind. What a nice concept!

The celebration begins on November 1st and ends on November 2nd. Despite the timing and skulls, it has no relation to Halloween (here’s the history of Halloween). Analogies to the Celtic-based Halloween are purely coincidental.

The celebration of the Mayas and Aztecs evolved into what today is a large Mexican festival, incorporating:

  • Photos and mementos of the deceased, placed on special altars along with…
  • Cempasúchil (marigold flowers).
  • Candles and copal incense (made with resin from a local tree).

    dia de los muertos mug

    Drink your coffee from a joyful skull. Photo courtesy Inked Shop.

  • There are music and dancing, plus special offerings for people who have died.

    Crystal Head Vodka Bottle

    Not into coffee or sugar skulls? Perhaps a bottle of Crystal Head Vodka is for you. Photo courtesy Crystal Head.


    Special foods include:

  • Pan de muertos (bread of the dead—recipe).
  • Sugar skulls, usually brightly painted.

    You’ve got time to order a celebratory mug.

    The Mexican Sugar Skull Giant Mug in the photo above costs just $14.95 from

    High quality ceramic, dishwasher and microwave safe, it’s inspired by the Day of the Dead sugar skulls, but perfectly at home year-round.

    Or perhaps you’d prefer a skull full of vodka?




    TIP: How To Remove That Burnt Popcorn Smell

    October is National Popcorn Poppin’ Month. We love popcorn, a whole grain snack that’s low in calories when seasoned simply with spices and herbs. You can also use your FDA-sanctioned two daily tablespoons of heart-healthy olive oil.

    But chief among our kitchen foibles is burnt microwaved popcorn. It not only imparts a horrendous lingering odor; it also stains the inside of the microwave with yellowish blotches. We sought help from

    Ready to begin? Gather your weapons.

    For The Odor

  • Fresh-ground coffee
  • White vinegar
  • Mug and small bowl as a saucer
    For The Stains

  • Dish detergent
  • Bowl or small bucket
  • Soft cloth or paper towels
  • Nail polish remover (100% acetone)
  • Soapy and clean water
  • Optional: rubber gloves
    Now get to work.


    Heirloom Popcorn Kernels

    Because burnt popcorn is so ugly, we elect to show only beauty, like these heirloom kernels. Photo by Katharine Pollak | THE NIBBLE.


    To rid your home of that burnt popcorn smell, there are two approaches: the coffee method and the vinegar method. Ground coffee absorbs odors, and vinegar neutralizes them.
    The Coffee Method

  • Fill a coffee mug or small bowl with 2 tablespoons of ground coffee and ½ cup of water. Set the cup in a small bowl to catch any overflow as it boils, and microwave on high for 2 minutes.
  • Carefully remove the hot mug. Repeat as necessary with fresh ingredients.
    The Vinegar Method

  • Fill the bowl halfway with vinegar. Heat it in the microwave until it develops a good amount of steam. Stop the heating and let the steam diffuse for 10 minutes.
  • Wipe out the microwave with water and a soft cloth or paper towels. A vinegar smell may remain in the microwave, but it will dissipate in a day or two and is far more pleasant than the burnt popcorn smell.
  • If the odor gets into the vents of a microwave, it may just take some time to air out. If you can take it outside and open the microwave door to fresh air—or set it in front of an open window—do so.
  • To neutralize the smell in the kitchen, add half a cup of vinegar to a quart of water and simmer on the stove for a 10 minutes.You can also burn a cinnamon stick in an ashtray.
  • If the odor still lingers, check out the article, Removing Smoke Smells, on

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/popcorn beauty bellechevreFB 230r

    No burnt popcorn here! Photo courtesy Belle Chevre | Facebook.



    This method should remove most, if not all, of the discoloration of the inside walls of a microwwave.

  • Mix a few drops of dish detergent with hot water in a large bowl or small bucket. Dip the cloth in the soapy water and wring it out thoroughly.
  • Wipe down the inside and outside of the microwave to remove any surface dirt and grime.
    If you have manicured nails, put on rubber gloves for the next step:

  • With a clean cloth or paper towel, apply nail polish remover to the walls and scrub away the yellowish stains. Wipe any residue from the walls with the soapy water and rinse.
  • You may need to repeat a couple of times depending on the severity of the discoloration.



    FOOD FUN: Spilled Coffee Art

    When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When it gives you spilled food, make art.

    That’s what Italian artist Giulia Bernardelli does. She’s become a specialist at turning spilled coffee, honey, jam and other foods into wonderful canvases that look as if they were created by accident.

    Animals, landscapes and portraits art so beautifully crafted that they really look like an accidents.

    Giulia doesn’t plan her work in advance but develops the ideas as she eats the food. At one breakfast, for example, she imagined the footprints left by a cat who walked into the jam.

    You can see that and other images at For more images, go to Google Images and search for Giulia Bernardelli.


    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/spilled food art giulia bernardelli 26 230

    Spilled coffee turns into a landscape with people and animals. Photo courtesy Giulia Bernardelli.




    TIP OF THE DAY: How to Recycle Coffee Grounds


    You can toss your coffee grounds, or re-use
    them in multiple ways. Photo courtesy


    September 29th is National Coffee Day. If you brew your own coffee, what do you do with the spent grounds?

    Here are green alternatives from Folgers Coffee and our own archives.



  • Body scrub: Add grounds to warm water or coconut oil and use as an exfoliating scrub.
  • Antioxidant facial: Mix two tablespoons of grounds with an equal amount of cocoa powder. Add three tablespoons of whole milk or heavy cream and a tablespoon of honey. Spread on your face; remove in 15 minutes.

  • Dye clothing or “antique” paper.
  • Scented candles: Mix the grounds into the wax of homemade candles. You’ll get a coffee scent as they burn.
  • Soap: Add grounds to homemade soap. They work as an exfoliator also impart some caffeine through the skin.

  • Marinate meat: The acid in the grounds is a tenderizer. A small amount added to a marinade gets great results without imparting the taste of coffee.

  • Use as plant food: The nitrogen-rich coffee grounds nurture houseplants and garden plants. Mix one part coffee grounds with four parts water, and water your plants with it once every other week. You can also sprinkle the grounds directly over the soil or blend them into the soil. Don’t use un-brewed coffee; it’s too high in acid and can burn the plants.
  • Compost, along with the paper coffee filter.


  • Touch up wood scratches with grounds and a cotton swab.
  • Clean the fireplace: Scatter grounds over the ashes to reduce the spread of dust as you sweep it up.
  • Use as a deodorizer, to remove strong smells (curry, fish, garlic). Rub some grounds over your hands or kitchen counter; then wash them off.
  • Remove unpleasant odors from garbage cans, closets, shoes, etc. Leave a cup of coffee grounds (or a smaller amount as appropriate) inside them overnight.

    Folgers has an online coffee calculator to tell you exactly how much water and ground coffee you need, based on the number of people.

    Note that in the coffee industry, a serving size is 6 fluid ounces. An American mug typically holds 12 ounces.


    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/coffee soap offbeatandinspired 230

    Homemade coffee soap. Here’s the recipe from




    RECIPE: Oktoberfest Burger With Pork Schnitzel

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/samuel adams Octoberfest burger 230L

    The Oktoberfest Burger, with breaded pork
    cutlets. Photo courtesy Hard Rock Cafe.


    Hard Rock Cafe is celebrating Oktoberfest with a Germany-inspired burger, the Samuel Adams Octoberfest Schnitzel Burger.

    Available September through October 31st, it has German flavor accents: schnitzel (breaded pork cutlets) instead of beef patties, sauerkraut, whole grain mustard and beer-accented cheese sauce, all on a pretzel bun.

    The Oktoberfest burger is similar to the Schnitzel Local Legendary Burger served year-round at Hard Rock Cafe locations in Germany. Here’s more about schnitzel.

    The Oktoberfest Burger is served with a side of seasoned fries and a Samuel Adams Octoberfest beer.

    What’s an Oktoberfest beer?

    Oktoberfest Beer, or Märzen, is a smooth and malty amber lager with an ABV* of 6% or higher. See our Beer Glossary for the different types of beer.


    Ingredients Per Burger

  • Lightly breaded tender pork schnitzel
  • Samuel Adams Octoberfest-infused beer cheese sauce (recipe below)
  • Smoked bacon
  • Sauerkraut
  • Whole grain mustard
  • Fresh baby arugula
  • Pretzel bun
  • Optional: long toothpick

    1. PREPARE the schnitzel (recipe—substitute pork cutlets for the veal) and toast the buns.

    2. LAYER atop the bottom bun: mustard, arugula, schnitzel, cheese sauce, sauerkraut, schnitzel, cheese sauce, sauerkraut, bacon, mustard. Fasten with a toothpick if needed.



    Cheese sauce can be used on everything from breakfast eggs to dinner grains, potatoes, rice and veggies. This recipe is adapted from on, a great resource for cooking with beer.


  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup Oktoberfest beer (substitute other beer of choice)
  • 1 cup freshly shredded Gouda†
  • 1 cup freshly shredded Cheddar†
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste (or substitute cayenne or chili flakes)

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/cheddar 230

    Make cheese sauce with freshly-grated cheese. Photo courtesy


    1. COMBINE all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Process on high until very well blended, about 5-8 minutes.

    2. EMPTY the contents into a saucepan and cook over medium high heat. Whisk rapidly and continuously until thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper as desired; for an extra kick use the cayenne or chili flakes. For a perfectly smooth sauce, use an immersion blender as necessary.

    3. SERVE warm.

    *ABV is Alcohol By Volume.

    †Do not use pre-shredded cheese.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Ways To Use Ginger Beer

    Ginger beer is not alcoholic, but a stronger, spicier version of ginger ale. There are lots of cocktails made with ginger beer, the most famous of which are:

  • Dark And Stormy: ginger beer and Gosling’s Black Seal Rum (a black or dark rum).
  • Moscow Mule: ginger beer, lime juice, vodka (trivia lovers, it was the first vodka cocktail created in America, and is also called a Vodka Buck).
  • Other Mule Drinks: There’s quite a selection, from a Kentucky Mule with Bourbon to Swedish Mule with Aquavit (the different types of mule drinks).
  • Black and Tan Mocktail: a mix of ginger ale and ginger beer (after the Black and Tan beer cocktail, made from a blend of a pale ale or lager with a dark beer).
  • Ginger Beer Mojito: a mocktail or cocktail of ginger beer, fresh lime juice, fresh mint leaves and—for the cocktail—white rum (recipe).
    We far prefer the heft and sizzle of ginger beer to the more pallid ginger ale.

    You can buy ginger beer in grocery stores, or you can easily make your own. Here’s a shortcut recipe from Chef Jamie Oliver, no fermenting required.


    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/dark and stormy marcussamuelsson ps 230

    The Dark and Stormy is named for the “storm cloud” effect created by pouring dark rum into ginger beer. Photo courtesy


    Ginger beer goes well with all spicy or highly-seasoned foods, as well as foods with sweet glazes and sauces, like barbecue or glazed ham. Find recipes below.


    Mule and buck are old names for mixed drinks made with ginger ale or ginger beer, plus citrus juice. They can be made with any base liquor.

    Some experts claim that a Buck is made with ginger ale, while a Mule uses the spicier ginger beer.

    Why buck? Why mule? That answer is lost to history, but here’s a detailed discussion.

    A bit of cocktail history: The Moscow Mule was invented in 1941 by John C. Hublein, importer of the than-not-well-known-or-popular Smirnof vodka. Here’s the history

    A Dark ‘n’ Stormy is traditionally made with Gosling’s Black Seal rum. Ginger beer was brought to the Caribbean by the English colonists, and full-bodied dark rum was first made by the Gosling family in 1860. It wasn’t a big jump to combine the two (one historian notes that Bermuda is only 20 square miles).


    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/goslings ginger beer diet 230

    Avoid refined sugar and save calories with Gosling’s Stormy Diet Ginger Beer. It’s sweetened with sucralose and acesulfame potassium. (Stormy is the name of the seal mascot. the ginger beer is also available in the conventional sugar-sweetened form). Photo courtesy Gosling’s.



    The main differences between today’s ginger beer and ginger ale are the sweetness and spiciness. Ginger beer is less sweet than ginger ale and has a sizzling ginger kick. The spicier ginger beer provides a bite to cocktails, while the lighter ginger ale provides more sweetness and effervescence.

    Historically, both were fermented. Today only ginger beer is fermented, a reason for the higher price. Here’s more about fermented soft drinks.

    According to an enlightening article by Bill Norris, mass-produced ginger-based soft drinks began to appear in the U.S. by the mid-1800s. Back then, the ginger flavoring extract was aged in oak barrels for four years before use!

    Ginger ale was the most popular soft drink in the U.S. until the 1930s (Coca-Cola first was bottled for distribution in 1899 more).

    These early ginger ales were closer to what we now call ginger beer, described as “powerfully spicy.”

    Canada Dry ginger ale was introduced in 1907; the “dry” style prevails today. It gained favor around the time of Prohibition (1920-1933). Dry ginger ale has a more mellow ginger flavor and is easier drinking—what most Americans seek in a soft drink.


    Create a spicy, lightly sweet sauce for meat and poultry with a base of ginger beer. Try:

  • Corned Beef In Ginger Beer (recipe)
  • Ginger Beer And Tangerine Glazed Ham (recipe)
  • Grilled Chicken In Ginger Beer Sauce (recipe)
  • Pork Tenderloin With Pears & Ginger Beer Sauce (recipe)


    FOOD FUN: Mounds Mess

    Recently we published a recipe for a popular U.K. dessert, the Eton Mess. It’s a combination of strawberries, whipped cream, meringues and other ingredients, unceremoniously mixed together (i.e., a mess).

    We saw this dessert on the Facebook page of Distilled NY in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood, and decided it was an American version of the Eton Mess. We nicknamed it the Mounds Mess, because it combines coconut and chocolate.

    Chef Shane Lyons of Distilled NY creates his “Mess” with brownie brittle, chocolate pudding, frozen coconut marshmallows and coconut macaroons.

    We did a version with brownie strips, coconut ice cream, French meringues and mascarpone; and, because we have a slight preference for Almond Joy, we tossed in some toasted almonds.


    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/mounds mess distilledNY

    A dessert for Mounds Bar lovers. Photo courtesy Distilled NY.



    More fun: Make your own Mounds or Almond Joy, using premium chocolate and coconut. Here’s the recipe from Elana’s Pantry.


    Here’s a template for putting together your own Mess:

  • Chocolate: brownies, chocolate pudding, cookies (chocolate wafers, chocolate chocolate chip, etc.), fudge sauce, shaved chocolate
  • Coconut: ice cream, almond macaroons (made from coconut), toasted coconut chips
  • Almond macaroons (buy or make with this recipe)
    And what about an Almond Joy Mess? Add an almond component:

  • Almonds: raw, roasted/toasted, whole or sliced
  • Almond butter
  • Almond buttercrunch or toffee
  • Amaretti cookies, whole or crumbled
    Want to get fancy? Layer your mess in a glass bowl, like a trifle. It will become a mess when you scoop it onto plates.






    TRENDS: Fall Beverages

    Are you anticipating a special beverage with the change of season…say, a certain latte?

    The Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL, to fans) has arrived at coffee shops, engendering peals of delight among a gaggle of young ladies in our neighborhood.

    But how do adults feel about fall beverages?

    Seasonal coffees are the most anticipated beverage for them, too, according to a KRC Pulse Poll.

    The results—in the photo—are from a nationwide survey conducted online by KRC Research in August 2015, among 507 American adults ages 18 and older.

    Our vote: fall’s seasonal beers!



    What’s your preference? Image courtesy KRC Research.




    RECIPE: Carrot Pasta

    While we’re enjoying the warmth of Indian Summer, Hannah Kaminsky of Bittersweet Blog suggests these raw, vegetable-based noodles made from carrots.

    Inspired by classic cold sesame noodles, delicate strands of carrots and cucumbers mingle together in crisp tangles of “pasta,” as vibrant as they are flavorful.

    Instead of peanut sauce based on peanut butter, Hannah substitutes cashew butter for a different take on the nutty, lightly spiced sauce.

    “Deceptively simple in composition,” says Hannah, “it doesn’t sound like anything particularly special on paper, but one taste and you’ll be hooked on the creamy cashew elixir. Lavish it over everything from salads to grilled tofu and beyond. Although you may end up with more than you need for this particular dish, trust me: It won’t be a struggle to polish off the excess in short order.”

    Note that this recipe comes together very quickly but needs to be eaten as soon as it’s made. The recipe makes 2-3 main dish servings or 4-5 side servings.


    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/carrot pasta kaminsky 230

    Cut the carbs and add the protein: carrot “pasta” in cashew sauce. Photo courtesy Hannah Kaminsky.



    Ingredients For The Cashew Sauce

  • 6 tablespoons smooth cashew butter
  • 1/3 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons light agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, finely minced
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon sriracha (or other hot sauce)
    For The Carrot Pasta

  • 5 Large carrots, peeled and shredded with a julienne peeler or spiral grater
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and shredded with a julienne peeler or spiral grater
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup toasted cashews, roughly chopped

    spiral grater

    A spiral grater, also called a spiralizer. Photo
    courtesy Microplane.



    1. PREPARE the sauce. This can be done up to 2 weeks in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container. Place the cashew butter in a medium bowl and slowly add the vegetable broth, stirring constantly to loosen and smooth out the thick paste. Add the remaining ingredients, whisk thoroughly until homogeneous and set aside.

    2. MAKE the carrot and cucumber “noodles.” Toss them together with half of the sauce; for easier mixing, use your hands. Add more sauce as needed, toss in the scallions and move to a serving plate.

    3. TOP with chopped cashews and serve.




    FOOD FUN: Pot Pies & A Chicken Pot Pie Baked Potato

    September 23rd is National Great American Pot Pie Day, celebrating a favorite American comfort food. Pot pie (also spelled potpie) is a misappropriated name. Originally, “pot pie” referred to a crustless mixture of meat pie ingredients and noodles, stewed in a pot on the stove top.

    Over time, the term became used to designate a meat pie with conventional crusts, baked in the oven in a deep pie plate or casserole dish.


    Meat pies likely date back to the milling of flour in ancient times, but before the invention of pie plates, which came many centuries later. Very thick crusts were used as baking vessels (but were not eaten, due to the high proportion of salt required to stiffen the crust). Meat pies in large vessels made of crust were popular banquet fare during the Roman Empire, as anyone who has seen Fellini Satyricon can attest.

    By the 16th century, the English gentry revived the ancient custom of meat pies. Venison was the meat of choice. The recipe crossed the pond to America, where it became as American as…pot pie!


    Beef Pot Pie

    Beef pot pie with a star-embellished crust. Get out your cookie cutter! Photo courtesy Betty Crocker.

    The pot pie can be baked without a bottom crust but with a conventional top crust or a biscuit topping (the dough is dropped onto the top), like a cobbler. Personally, we prefer a crisp biscuit to a crust.

    While most people immediately think of chicken pot pie, pot pies are made today from any type of meat, poultry, fish or seafood, as well as vegetarian varieties. If you have venison, by all means enjoy a historic venison pot pie.

    Some of our favorite spins on pot pie:

  • Biscuit Pot Pie (with a biscuit instead of crust—(recipe)
  • Meatball Pot Pie (recipe)
  • Polka Dot Pot Pie (recipe)
  • Star Crust Pot Pie (see photo above)
  • Turkey Leftovers Pot Pie (recipe)
    And the recipe below, Baked Potato Pot Pie.


    Chicken Pot Pie Baked Potato

    Something new: pot pie in a baked potato! Photo courtesy Idaho Potato Commission.



    For today’s special occasion, we’ve fused the pot pie with a baked potato. Or actually, blogger Carla Cardello of Chocolate Moosey did. She developed the recipe for the Idaho Potato Commission.

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 4 Idaho baking potatoes
  • Olive oil, for brushing
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup frozen vegetable medley (carrots, peas, corn, and
    green beans)
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
  • Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 425°F. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet. Brush each with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and prick with the tines of a fork. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until they are fork tender. Meanwhile…

    2. HEAT the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken. Cook for 4 minutes, then flip and cook until no longer pink in the middle, another 3-5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a bowl and keep warm.

    3. ADD 1 tablespoon of butter to any meat drippings left in the skillet and melt. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5-8 minutes. Add the flour and stir to coat. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth. Bring to a boil and cook until thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Whisk in the milk and salt and bring back to a boil. Add the vegetable medley and cooked chicken. Cook another 1-2 minutes or until hot.

    4. MELT the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and cook until brown, about 5-8 minutes. Stir in the parsley.

    5. CUT each baked potato in half. Top with pot pie mixture and breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.



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