American Culture: Black and White Cookies

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

 


One naturally thinks of New York City in connection with such well-known sights as the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and Central Park. Would you believe that a cookie is also an iconic symbol of New York City? It’s true, and it’s the black and white cookie

The black and white cookie is extremely light and fluffy, like a little cake, with a top that's decorated on one half with chocolate frosting and vanilla on the other. It’s a New York deli favorite, a staple in every bakery and bagel shop in the city, and there are many theories to its origin: 

Some believe its creation was the result of a dessert trend at the end of the 19th century, which was to combine dark and light elements in one dessert. It was very popular, for example, to spread chocolate frosting on a vanilla cake or have varieties of cakes with dark and light layers. This light-dark theme eventually transferred to cookies. 

There are also theories that the black and white cookie is of German origin; others believe it’s of Italian-American origin. Regardless, if you want a little taste of New York City, try a black and white cookie. Here’s the recipe if you want to make your own: https://www.food.com/recipe/new-york-city-black-and-white-cookies-180805




Blue Comedy

Wednesday, August 5, 2020



French artist Henri Matisse said, “When I paint green, it doesn’t mean grass; when I paint blue, it doesn’t mean sky.”  
In the comedy world, though, blue means something very specific: indecent or vulgar material.

More formally known as ribaldry (which sounds like an outdated word to me), blue comedy is a particular style of humorous entertainment that breaks taboos. It relies on coarse material involving profane language, sexual themes, cursing, bodily functions, or other impolite subjects. 

I personally think blue comics aren’t very clever because it requires work to be creative and funny without being crass. Everyone has their own taste, however, and there are many comedians who only work blue because that’s what their audience likes and expects. 

Do you like blue comedy? 

How long does it take…..?

Friday, July 10, 2020


When talking about the duration of time to do an activity, we say “How long does it take + infinitive…?”

It’s a common way to ask about the time needed to do various things.







Travel from point A to point B. 
- How long does it take to fly from Chicago to Rome? - present tense
(It takes eight hours.)
- How long did it take to get to the office from home? - past tense
(It took 15 minutes.)

Travel somewhere via different modes of transportation. 
- How long does it take to get to the university by bus? - present tense
(It takes 35 minutes to get to the university by bus.)
- How long will it take to arrive in the city center on foot? - future
(It will take 40 minutes on foot.)

Doing anything
How long will it take for the tree to grow fruit? - future
(It will take five years.)
How long did it take to build the Great Pyramid of Giza? - past tense
(It took 20 years.)

You don’t always have to be precise with the time. You can use these phrases: 
- It didn’t take long / It won’t take long (It didn't take long to read that book.)
- It takes a long time / It took a long time /It will take a long time (It took Carlo a long time to finally graduate.)

You can personalize these kinds of sentences too: 
- How long did it take Simona to get to the office from home? - past tense
(It took her 15 minutes.)
- How long will it take you to arrive in the city center on foot? - future
(It will take me 40 minutes on foot.)
- How long did it take slaves to build the Great Pyramid of Giza? - past tense
(It took 20 years and thousands of slaves.)


In conclusion: if we are talking about time, we use the phrase “How long does it take…?”, “How long did it take…?”, “How long will it take…?”



Eating Crow

Sunday, June 14, 2020


I don’t know much about crows but they seem to have a bad reputation. They are omens of bad luck (if you believe the superstition), their call is rather harsh and unpleasant sounding, and they eat a lot.

Scarecrows are common sights in farm fields to keep crows and other birds away. They’re objects made to resemble humans, dressed in old clothes and filled with straw, and set up to scare birds away from fields where seeds and crops are growing.

To eat crow (an idiom) is something no one wants to do. Eating crow means you are forced to admit a humiliating mistake.
According to legend, during the War of 1812 an American soldier killed a crow in British territory. When a British officer discovered this, he forced the soldier to eat the dead crow, thus humbling and humiliating the American soldier.

Here are a couple sentences using the idiom:
  • Charlie’s sales estimates were wrong so he had to "eat crow" at the board meeting. 
  • Our team bragged that we would be victorious, but we lost and had to "eat crow".

I’ve never tasted crow meat, but some say it is similar to duck while others say it tastes terrible.

The Darwin Awards

Sunday, April 19, 2020



Story: A lawyer from Canada bragged that the windows in his Toronto office were bullet-proof and unbreakable. One day he decided to demonstrate this by running into one of the windows at full speed. His clients watched in shock as he crashed through the "unbreakable" window, landing on the pavement 24 floors below.

This unfortunate lawyer is an excellent candidate for a Darwin Award, which is a fictional honor given out each year for the most stupid death. The name originates from Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution (survival of the fittest). Since recipients of the Darwin award are too reckless and idiotic, they are not expected to survive on this earth very long, so they actually improve humanity's gene pool by removing themselves from it.

Intelligence, education, and social status can’t save everyone: philosophers, scientists and postgraduate students have all received this dubious honor.

If you’re interested in reading about recent “winners,” check out darwinawards.com and be thankful that you were never nominated.

Prefixes Over and Under: Too Much and Not Enough

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


These eggs have been cooked too long. They are overcooked.

Attaching prefixes to words can help you express yourself more directly and concisely. For example, by adding the word “over” before certain words, you communicate that something is excessive. In other words, “too much.”




Let’s look at some adjectives:
  • Overconfident = excessively or unreasonably confident
  • Overpaid = paid too highly
  • Overweight = too much weight
  • Overcrowded = too many people

Now some verbs:
  • Oversleep = sleep too much
  • Overeat =  eat too much
  • Overact = act a role in an exaggerated way
  • Overdress = dress too formally

The opposite is expressed by adding the prefix “under” (meaning “not enough”) to certain words:
  • Underpaid = not paid enough
  • Undercooked = not cooked enough
  • Underweight = doesn’t weigh enough
  • Undernourished = having insufficient food for good health 

There are lists of words that have the prefixes over and under. Try to learn some of them for increased fluency and greater versatility. I prefer that you know "too much" instead of "not enough."

Keeping Score

Tuesday, February 11, 2020


What does “score” mean in the following quote by Abraham Lincoln?

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States and this is the first line from his famous Gettysburg Address speech in 1863. A score means a group or set of twenty, so in his speech Lincoln is talking about years, four score and seven years, which is a more sophisticated way of saying 87 years.

Example: A score of citizens attended the townhall meeting. (Note that the plural of score is also score.)

Don’t confuse this with scores (of), which means a large amount of something.

Example: Michelle sends scores of Christmas cards to family and friends every December.