Monthly Archives: March 2011

Americana: Girl Scout Cookies


Look at the wide variety of cookies available. Let's see, there's Thin Mints and...and...oh heck, I like them all but I dream about Thin Mints. Photo by Ebba Ligouri.

They’re inescapable. Your niece sells them. They’re outside the local Kroger. Your coworker is selling them for her kid. So you buy a box.

From everyone. And before you know it, you have a caloriepalooza in your pantry. But, oh, are they good.

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Local Girl Scout groups started baking them at home as a fundraiser as early as 1917. They were sold for all of $.30 a dozen. It wasn’t until 1936 that the national Girl Scouts organization licensed cookies for production by a commercial baker. I remember going on a field trip to Richmond in elementary school to the FFV bakery, where Girl Scout cookies were produced. I thought they were all made there, but I learned later (okay, today) that they were actually prepared by 14 bakeries way back then.

Now there are two authorized bakeries, and up to eight varieties of cookies. But let’s face it, there’s really one. Thin Mints.

‘Scuse me, I’m going to go see if we have any in the pantry. Or even better, in the freezer.

Originally posted April 19, 2009

Singers: The Everly Brothers


Only Hall & Oates have more top 40 singles as a vocal duo than the Everly Brothers, who had 26 in the late 50s and early 60s. Uploaded by

It’s no secret that some of the best harmonies in recording history come from family groups. Chief among these are Don and Phil Everly, two Kentucky boys who began singing with their family from the time they were 7 and 5, respectively. Their first recording with Columbia Records was a flop, and the label dropped them. They then were picked up by the new Cadence Records, for whom they recorded most of their hits.

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The Everlys had 26 Billboard Top 40 singles, trailing only Hall and Oates for the most by a vocal duo. Among them (and their highest chart position) were:

  • “Bye Bye Love” (1957, #2)
  • “Wake Up Little Susie” (1957, #1)
  • “All I Have to do Is Dream” (1958, #1)
  • “Bird Dog” (1958, #3)
  • “Devoted to You” (1958, #10)
  • “Till I Kissed You” (1959, #4)
  • “Let It Be Me” (1960, #7)
  • “Cathy’s Clown” (1960, #1)
  • “When Will I Be Loved” (1960, #8)
  • “Walk Right Back” (1961, #7)
  • “Crying in the Rain” (1962, #6

The Everly Brothers influenced many of the most popular groups of the 1960s, including the Beatles. Their legacy is obvious from the Halls of Fame in which they’ve been inducted: Rock and Roll, Country Music, Vocal Group, and Rockabilly. They’ve earned a Lifetime Grammy, and Rolling Stone ranked them number 33 in their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

Americana: Culinary Institute of America


You can appreciate the quality of the training provided by the Culinary Institute by looking at its graduates, including many celebrity chefs, Top Chef winners, and executive chefs at leading restaurants. Uploaded by

No cloak-and-dagger stuff for this CIA. Unless the cloak is a chef’s coat, and the dagger is a chef’s knife. The Culinary Institute of America is the country’s leading school for training serious chefs, with four campuses – Hyde Park, NY (main), St. Helena, CA, San Antonio, and Singapore. Yeah, I don’t get Singapore, either.

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The school was founded in 1946 to provide vocational education for returning war veterans. It’s an accredited college, offering Bachelor of Professional Studies and Associate of Occupational Studies degrees. It also provides continuing education courses for culinary professionals that lead to certification, with the highest level being Certified Executive Chef. And if you’re ever near Hyde Park (about 80 miles north of NYC, near Poughkeepsie), you can enjoy the students’ work at one of the Institute’s five restaurants.

The quality of the CIA is easily seen by the reputation of its graduates. Among those who’ve attended CIA are: Anthony Bourdain (Travel Channel), Richard Blais (Top Chef), Anne Burrell (Food Network), Marcel Desaulniers (Death By Chocolate), Harold Dieterle (Top Chef), Rocco DiSpirito (Rocco’s), Steve Ells (founder, Chipotle Mexican Grill), Duff Goldman (Ace of Cakes), Ilan Hall (Top Chef), Hung Huynh (Top Chef), Christina Machamer (Hell’s Kitchen), Sara Moulton (Good Morning America), Walter Scheib (White House Executive Chef), and Sherry Yard (Spago).

Actor: Buster Keaton


When Keaton was a boy, he performed in a vaudeville act with his father. He loved doing the act, but noticed he got fewer laughs when he showed his enjoyment, more when he showed no expression. He carried that knowledge into his films. Uploaded by

Is Keaton an excellent actor who could also direct, or an excellent director who could also act? I think of him first as an actor, whose stoic visage is second only to Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” as an icon of the silent film era. But he’s revered among film cognoscenti as a director, not just one of the best of his age, but of all time.

Photo by Ruth Harriet Louise.

Keaton had writers for his films, but conceived of most of the comedic bits himself. Working without a stuntman, he often took great physical risks. In one memorable scene in the movie Steamboat Bill Jr., Keaton had to stand in an exact spot. Then, the several-ton fa├žade of a building fell on him, leaving Keaton uninjured because he stood where an open window landed. It was a huge risk with an incredibly small margin for error, but typical of the physical comedy he loved.

Keaton’s masterpiece was The General, a comedy/drama set during the Civil War. It didn’t perform that well at the box office, because people were still uncomfortable laughing at the Civil War – and because many of its good guys were Confederates. Even so, a 2002 poll by the British film magazine Sight & Sound named The General as the 15th best film of all time. And in an interview, no less of an expert than Orson Welles called the movie the best comedy of all time, and maybe the best film. Entertainment Weekly named Keaton the seventh-best director of all time, and the American Film Institute placed him as 21st on its list of the greatest male actors of all time.

Watch these clips. Brilliant.