The Oldest Unopened Bottle of Wine in the World (Circa 350 AD)

Image by Immanuel Giel, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s an old TV and movie trope: the man of wealth and taste, often but not always a supervillain, offers his distinguished guest a bottle of wine, his finest, an ancient vintage from one of the most venerable vineyards. We might follow the motif back at least to Edgar Allan Poe, whose “Cask of Amontillado” puts an especially devious spin on the treasured bottle’s sinister connotations.

If our suave and possibly deadly host were to offer us the bottle you see here, we might hardly believe it, and would hardly be keen to drink it, though not for fear of being murdered afterward. The Römerwein, or Speyer wine bottle—so called after the German region where it was discovered in the excavation of a 4th century AD Roman nobleman’s tomb—dates “back to between 325 and 359 AD,” writes Abandoned Spaces, and has the distinction of being “the oldest known wine bottle which remains unopened.”

A 1.5 liter “glass vessel with amphora-like sturdy shoulders” in the shape of dolphins, the bottle is of no use to its owner, but no one is certain what would happen to the liquid if it were exposed to air, so it stays sealed, its thick stopper of wax and olive oil maintaining an impressively hermetic environment. Scientists can only speculate that the liquid inside has probably lost most of its ethanol content. But the bottle still contains a good amount of wine, “diluted with a mix of various herbs.”

The Römerwein resides at the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer, which seems like an incredibly fascinating place if you happen to be passing through. You won’t get to taste ancient Roman wine there, but you may, perhaps, if you travel to the University of Catania in Sicily where in 2013, scientists recreated ancient wine-making techniques, set up a vineyard, and followed the old ways to the letter, using wooden tools and strips of cane to tie their vines.

They proceeded, writes Tom Kingston at The Guardian, “without mechanization, pesticides or fertilizers.” Only the organic stuff for Roman vintners.

The team has faithfully followed tips on wine growing given by Virgil in the Georgics, his poem about agriculture, as well as by Columella, a first century AD grower, whose detailed guide to winemaking was relied on until the 17th century.

Those ancient winemakers added honey and water to their wine, as well as herbs, to sweeten and spice things up. And unlike most Italians today who “drink moderately with meals,” ancient Romans “were more given to drunken carousing.” Maybe that’s what the gentleman in the Speyer tomb hoped to be doing in his Roman afterlife.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Bob Dylan Potato Chips, Anyone?: What They’re Snacking on in China

They sound tasty. The rub? You have to travel to China to get them.

And now a question for any readers fluent in Chinese. Can you translate the text on the bag? We would be curious to know what's the pitch for these chips. Feel free to put any translations in comments section below.

via @stevesilberman

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An Animated History of Tea

Self proclaimed tea geek, Shunan Teng’s knowledge of her chosen subject extends well beyond the proper way to serve and prepare her best-loved beverage.

Her recent TED-Ed lesson on the History of Tea, above, hints at centuries of bloodshed and mercenary trade practices, discreetly masked by Steff Lee’s benign animation.

Addiction, war, and child labor---the last, a grim ongoing reality…. Meditate on that the next time you’re enjoying a nice cup of Darjeeling, or better yet, matcha, a preparation whose Western buzz is starting to approximate that of the Tang dynasty.

Even die-hard coffee loyalists with little patience for the ritualistic niceties of tea culture can indulge in some fascinating trivia, from the invention of the clipper ship to the possible health benefits of eating rather than drinking those green leaves.

Test your TQ post-lesson with TED-Ed’s quiz, or this one from Tea Drunk, Teng’s authentic Manhattan tea house.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She’ll be appearing onstage in New York City this June as one of the clowns in Paul David Young’s Faust 3. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How Baking, Cooking & Other Daily Activities Help Promote Happiness and Alleviate Depression and Anxiety

Image by Beth MacKenzie, via Flickr Commons

Most healthy people practice at least some form of what we call these days “self-care,” whether it be yoga, meditation, running, writing, art, music, therapy, coloring books, or what-have-you. And if you’re functioning tolerably well in the madness of our times, you’re probably dipping regularly into the well of at least one restorative discipline, in addition to whatever larger beliefs you may hold.

But perhaps you feel at loose ends—unable to find the time or money for yoga classes or painting, feeling too restless to sit motionless for half an hour or more a day.... The activities that sustain our psyches should not feel unattainable. One need not be a yogi, Zen monk, marathoner, or Impressionist to find regular fulfilment in life. Perhaps regular, ordinary activities have the power to make us just as happy.

Recent research suggests that tasks such as “knitting, crocheting and jam-making” can “work wonders for wellbeing,” writes Tom Ough at The Telegraph, as can other creative practices like “cooking, baking, performing music, painting, drawing, sketching, digital design and creative writing.” All may have profound effects on emotional health. This list might expand indefinitely to include any hands-on activity with measurable results, from woodworking to beekeeping.

A 2016 study of 658 students at New Zealand’s Otago University found that engaging in small creative pursuits on a daily basis produces enthusiasm and feelings of “flourishing”—“a mental health term describing happiness and meaning.” The results of, say, making a loaf of bread or a scarf, don’t simply benefit us in the moment, but carry over into the future. As the study’s lead author Tamlin Connor notes, “engaging in creative behaviour leads to increases in well-being the next day, and this increased well-being is likely to facilitate creative activity on the same day.”

The more we bake, the more we’ll want to bake, the happier we’ll feel.

Does focusing our attention on small, achievable daily tasks lead to the kind of metaphysical fulfilment most people seem to crave—what Viktor Frankl called “man’s search for meaning”? Not necessarily, no. “Recent research suggests,” notes Daisy Grewal at Scientific American, “that while happiness and a sense of meaning often overlap, they also diverge in important and surprising ways.” Frankl may not be wrong about the need for meaning, but even he admitted that seeking it out is not identical to the pursuit of happiness.

In a 2013 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, Roy Baumeister, Kathleen Vohs, Jennifer Aaker, and Emily Garbinsky found that happiness, “flourishing,” or emotional well-being correlate strongly with “satisfying one’s needs and wants” as well as with “being a giver rather than a taker.” Philosophy, politics, religion, and art may seek truth or coherence, but while “concerns with personal identity and expressing the self contributed to meaning,” they have little lasting effect on happiness, as many a philosopher, priest, or poet may tell you. On the other hand, while having comfortable economic means does measurably improve happiness, it does not contribute significantly to a sense of larger purpose (that which, Frankl argued strenuously, can save our lives in times of crisis).

Baumeister and his colleagues obtained their findings by surveying around 400 American adults over a period of three weeks, during which time the participants monitored a variety of daily activities. In one reading of the Otago University study, Daisy Meager at Vice focuses specially on baking as a means to ward off a “shitty mood.” It may be a matter of taste---some may prefer making sauces to cakes. The effects are the same, "a common cure," writes Danny Lewis at Smithsonian, "for stress or feeling down."

Meager points to work done by Julie Ohana, a “culinary therapist” who uses the kitchen to help patients combat “depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.” Vice's Jackson Connor describes his personal experience of how cooking “alleviates symptoms of stress and anxiety almost immediately,” as well as over time. And no less an authority than food theorist Michael Pollan makes the persuasive case for "how cooking can change your life" in the short animated video below (see his full talk at the RSA here).

Further arguing, however, for baking as a special form of “flourishing,” Julie Thomson at HuffPo describes the act as “a productive form of self-expression and communication" and consults with experts like Ohana and Donna Pincus, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, who told Thomson, “Baking has the benefit of allowing people creative expression.” People who may not be natural artists, writers, or musicians. Yet baking is also a kind of problem-solving as well as a creative act, and “actually requires a lot of full attention.”

You have to measure, focus physically on rolling out dough. If you’re focusing on smell and taste, on being present with what you’re creating, that act of mindfulness in that present moment can also have a result in stress reduction.

The reference to mindfulness is apt. (Go ahead and read about a course on “Breaditation,” make fun of it, then try it at home.) I know not a few people who swear they cannot meditate to save their lives, but who will happily spend a couple hours on a Saturday evening baking brioche or plates of cookies. But there’s more to it than the meditative absorption that comes from mindful activity. Baking, says Pincus---and cooking in general---is a form of altruism. “The nice thing about baking,” she ways, “is that you have such a tangible reward at the end and that can feel very beneficial to others.”

So the research suggests that---whatever activities one gravitates toward---finding happiness on a daily basis involves more than using Pinterest boards and magazines to craft a cozy, stylish new life. Though any sustained creative activity may do the trick, we approach closer to lasting happiness as well as greater fulfillment—to meaning—when we direct activity to a “connection with other people” through generosity.

via Scientific American

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Teeny Tiny Japanese Meals Get Made in a Miniature Kitchen: The Joy of Cooking Mini Tempura, Sashimi, Curry, Okonomiyaki & More

Every time I go to Japan, I marvel at the artificial sandwiches, omelets, bowls of noodles, and parfaits displayed outside even the humblest shopping-arcade cafés, all made to give the customer a more vivid sense of the dishes on offer than would any two-dimensional photograph. But while those fake foods, made to scale with polyvinyl chloride and other inedible materials, do reflect Japan's long tradition of high-quality hand-craftsmanship, they don't reflect some of the culture's other virtues: the advanced Japanese skills of miniaturization (remarked upon by even the earliest Western visitors to the once-closed country), not to mention the deliciousness of actual Japanese food.

At a stroke, the Youtube channel Miniature Space combines all of those into a single project: its creators replicate a variety of classic Japanese, Western, and Japanese-Western dishes like shrimp tempura, curry, and okonomiyaki on video, all at what seems an impossibly small scale. Not only that, but they use only miniature kitchen tools, right down to wee knives, spatulas, and rolling pins as well as tea candle-powered stoves.

Some of these, writes iDigitalTimes' ND Medina, "come from Re-Ment, a Japanese company noted for the impressive detail of its miniatures. However, many of the tools used have long been out of production, like anything by Konapun, a brand which made fun miniature cooking sets for kids to experience the joys of cooking."

Miniature cooking at this level of rigor requires not just considerable manual dexterity but a certain knack for creative substitution: toothpicks instead of standard skewers, quail eggs instead of chicken eggs, special shrimp from the aquarium supply store small enough to fit inside one's thimble-sized cooking pot. Though aesthetically satisfying on many levels and technically edible to boot, these mini-meals wouldn't satisfy any normal human appetite. Nevertheless, watching enough Miniature Space videos in a row will almost certainly get you hungering for a regular-sized grill of yakitori, bowl of spaghetti, or plate of pancakes — and leave you with some of the know-how needed to make such dishes, even in a non-miniature kitchen.

You can view a playlist of miniature Japanese cooking here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How to Make the World’s Smallest Cup of Coffee, from Just One Coffee Bean

The Finnish coffee company, Paulig, has been around for a good long while--since 1876, to precise. But only in 2017 did they get around to doing this--enlisting Helsinki designer Lucas Zanotto "to make the smallest cup of coffee, out of 1 bean." Zanotto doesn't need much more than a nail file, candle, and thimble-sized cup to produce that tiny cup of joe. Conceptually, it's a neat exercise in efficiency and conservation. But, practically speaking, will it get you through the day?

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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via Colossal

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The Futurist Cookbook (1930) Tried to Turn Italian Cuisine into Modern Art

With the coming savage cuts in arts funding, perhaps we'll return to a system of noblesse oblige familiar to students of The Gilded Age, when artists needed independent wealth or patronage, and wealthy industrialists often decided what was art, and what wasn’t. Unlike fine art, however, haute cuisine has always relied on the patronage of wealthy donors---or diners. It can be marketed in premade pieces, sold in cookbooks, and made to look easy on TV, but for reasons both cultural and practical, given the nature of food, an exquisitely-prepared dish can only be made accessible to a select few.

Still, we would be mistaken, suggested Futurist poet and theorist F.T. Marinetti (1876–1944), should we neglect to see cooking as an art form akin to all the others in its moral and intellectual influence on us. While hardly the first or the last artist to publish a cookbook, Marinetti’s Futurist Cookbook seems as first glance deadly, even aggressively, serious, lacking the whimsy, impractical weirdness, and surrealist art of Salvador Dali’s Les Diners de Gala, for example, or the eclectic wistfulness of the MoMA’s Artist’s Cookbook.

Just as he had sought with his earlier Futurist Manifesto to revolutionize art, Marinetti intended his cookbook to foment a “revolution of cuisine,” as Alex Revelli Sorini and Susanna Cutini point out. You might even call it an act of war when it came to certain staples of Italian eating, like pasta, which he thought responsible for “sluggishness, pessimism, nostalgic inactivity, and neutralism” (anticipating scads of low and no-carb diets to come).

Believing that people “think, dream and act according to what they eat and drink,” Marinetti formulated strict rules not only for the preparation of food, but also the serving and eating of it, going so far as to call for abolishing the knife and fork. A short excerpt from his introduction shows him applying to food the techno-romanticism of his Futurist theory—an ethos taken up by Benito Mussolini, whom Marinetti supported:

The Futurist culinary revolution … has the lofty, noble and universally expedient aim of changing radically the eating habits of our race, strengthening it, dynamizing it and spiritualizing it with brand-new food combinations in which experiment, intelligence and imagination will economically take the place of quantity, banality, repetition and expense.

In hindsight, the fascist overtones in Marinetti’s language seem glaring. In 1932, when  the Futurist Cookbook  was published, his Futurism seemed like a much-need “jolt to all the practical and intellectual activities,” note Sorini and Cutini.  “The subject [of cooking] needed a good shake to reawaken its spirit.” And that’s just what it got. The Futurist Cookbook acted as “a preview of Italian-style Nouvelle Cuisine,” with such innovations as “additives and preservatives added to food, or using technological tools in the kitchen to mince, pulverize, and emulsify.”

Yet, for all the high seriousness with which Marinetti seems to treat his subject, “what the media missed” at the time, writes Maria Popova, “was that the cookbook was arguably the greatest artistic prank of the twentieth century.” In an introduction to the 1989 edition, British journalist and historian Lesley Chamberlain called the Futurist Cookbook “a serious joke, revolutionary in the first instance because it overturned with ribald laughter everything ‘food’ and ‘cookbooks’ held sacred.” Marinetti first swept away tradition in favor of creative dining events the Futurists called “aerobanquets,” such as one in Bologna in 1931 with a table shaped like an airplane and dishes called “spicy airport” (Olivier salad) and “rising thunder” (orange risotto). Lambrusco wine was served in gas cans.

It’s performance art worthy of Dali's bizarre costumed dinner parties, but fueled by a genuine desire to revolutionize food, if not the actual eating of it, by “bringing together elements separated by biases that have no true foundation.” So remarked French chef Jules Maincave, a 1914 convert to Futurism and inspiration for what Marinetti calls “flexible flavorful combinations.” See several such recipes excerpted from the Futurist Cookbook at Brain Pickings, read the full book in Italian here, and, just below, see Marinetti’s rules for the perfect meal, first published in 1930 as the “Manifesto of Futurist Cuisine.”

Futurist cuisine and rules for the perfect lunch

1. An original harmony of the table (crystal ware, crockery and glassware, decoration) with the flavors and colors of the dishes.

2. Utter originality in the dishes.

3. The invention of flexible flavorful combinations (edible plastic complex), whose original harmony of form and color feeds the eyes and awakens the imagination before tempting the lips.

4. The abolition of knife and fork in favor of flexible combinations that can deliver prelabial tactile enjoyment.

5. The use of the art of perfumery to enhance taste. Each dish must be preceded by a perfume that will be removed from the table using fans.

6. A limited use of music in the intervals between one dish and the next, so as not to distract the sensitivity of the tongue and the palate and serves to eliminate the flavor enjoyed, restoring a clean slate for tasting.

7. Abolition of oratory and politics at the table.

8. Measured use of poetry and music as unexpected ingredients to awaken the flavors of a given dish with their sensual intensity.

9. Rapid presentation between one dish and the next, before the nostrils and the eyes of the dinner guests, of the few dishes that they will eat, and others that they will not, to facilitate curiosity, surprise, and imagination.

10. The creation of simultaneous and changing morsels that contain ten, twenty flavors to be tasted in a few moments. These morsels will also serve the analog function […] of summarizing an entire area of life, the course of a love affair, or an entire voyage to the Far East.

11. A supply of scientific tools in the kitchen: ozone machines that will impart the scent of ozone to liquids and dishes; lamps to emit ultraviolet rays; electrolyzers to decompose extracted juices etc. in order to use a known product to achieve a new product with new properties; colloidal mills that can be used to pulverize flours, dried fruit and nuts, spices, etc.; distilling devices using ordinary pressure or a vacuum, centrifuge autoclaves, dialysis machines.

The use of this equipment must be scientific, avoiding the error of allowing dishes to cook in steam pressure cookers, which leads to the destruction of active substances (vitamins, etc.) due to the high temperatures. Chemical indicators will check if the sauce is acidic or basic and will serve to correct any errors that may occur: lack of salt, too much vinegar, too much pepper, too sweet."

via FineDiningLovers and BrainPickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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