Harvest Desk

Blending up eggs, milk, sugar, booze and with a bit of spice grated on top — sounds like eggnog, right? But use pisco instead of rum; sweetened, condensed milk in place of fresh milk and cream and a special ingredient — and you've got a cocktail de algarrobina. In Peru, it wouldn't be Christmas without it.

In Charles Dickens' famous tale A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge's spectral-induced transformation leaves him with a longing for an old-fashioned Christmas drink.

"I'll raise your salary and endeavor to assist your struggling family," Scrooge promises his much-abused employee, Bob Cratchit, "and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!"

In 2008, Canadian student Christopher Charles was working in rural Cambodia, living in a typical Cambodian house on stilts. He had no electricity, no running water and, he says, a lot of time to sit around and think.

"I was looking at the prevalence of anemia and parasite infection in the region and began to uncover this huge problem that no one was doing anything about," in Cambodia. Anemia is a disease that's linked to low levels of iron in the blood, and almost half of Cambodia's population suffers from it.

In Latin American cultures, Christmas Eve is Noche Buena and time for a big family celebration, often featuring a pig roast. There are lots of ways to cook a whole pig. But at Noche Buena parties in South Florida and, increasingly, around the country, the preferred method for roasting a pig involves something known as a "China box."

In October, Hilda Mascarenhas, who writes a popular food blog in Pune, India, began her Christmas preparations with an unusual request to her fruit seller.

After buying a pineapple, she asked the vendor to separately pack the peel and eyes that he had skillfully removed with his long knife.

Alaska is about to become the first state to have pot cafes where people can buy and consume marijuana, similar to Amsterdam.

Right now, that's not legal in other states that have recreational marijuana.

Brothers James and Giono Barrett, who own a marijuana business, Rainforest Farms, in Juneau, also plan to produce a line of chocolate bars infused with pot. They'll be an alternative to the sugary, processed edibles Giono says he has eaten recently in Colorado.

Cooking gadgets seem to be a solid go-to when you're not sure what to give someone. Who wouldn't be charmed with a laser-guided pizza cutter? A one-click butter dispenser? An electric bacon-bowl maker?

If you are eating turkey this Christmas out of some sense of tradition, food historian Ivan Day says, put down that drumstick. After studying English cookbooks hundreds of years old, Day says the giant bird isn't even that traditional. Besides, he says, "It's a dry wasteland of flavorless meat."

Sure, the first turkey came to England in the 1600s. It was an exotic "treat" from the New World. But a time traveler from Shakespeare's time wouldn't understand why everyone in the modern world was having the same dull bird on Christmas night.

Back in 2006, before Brooklyn had its own artisanal mayonnaise store and craft beef jerky company, there was Mast Brothers chocolate.

With their impressive beards and lumberjack aesthetic, the Mast Brothers were the epitome of Brooklyn hipsters, part ZZ Top and part Brawny paper towel guy. Their chocolate was quintessentially New Brooklyn, made with a small-batch process called bean-to-bar, in which the chocolate maker oversees every aspect of the production process.

Like amaranth and quinoa before it, millet – a hardy, gluten-free ancient seed – has become an "it" grain in recent years.

In Madrid, Museo del Jamón, which isn't a museum but a chain of bars, sells special ham backpacks, for carrying a whole ham leg — hoof and all — around town at the holidays. Spanish airports have special luggage rules for them. A leg of ham is the most popular family gift at Christmas. Every self-respecting Spanish household has a jamonera — a kitchen countertop rack on which to mount and cut slices off a ham leg.

At the Portland VA in Oregon, Ray Spaulding stands over a frying pan full of sliced green apples at a cooking class,

"I feel like I'm on the Martha Stewart show," says the 85-year-old Air Force veteran. "This is caramelizing!"

Today's class is about ways to make healthier desserts, like brownies made with cocoa, Splenda and pureed black beans rather than flour and sugar. Spaulding is making cooked apples sprinkled with a little bit of cinnamon.

Christmas is a time for coming together with family and loved ones. Some 200 years ago, it was also a time to get stinking drunk in public.

Sunlight is the single biggest source of vitamin D. But in the depths of winter, folks living in the northern reaches of the United States often don't get enough sunshine on their skin to make much vitamin D. It's essential for maintaining healthy bones and kidneys, and may have other benefits.

For people with darker skin in those higher latitudes, a deficiency of the vitamin is even likelier because pigmentation reduces the skin's production of the vitamin.

You may have heard some of the fashion industry horror stories.

Models eating tissues or cotton balls to stave off hunger. Models collapsing from malnutrition-induced heart attacks just seconds after they step off the runway. Even models growing a layer of downy fuzz as their bodies try to keep warm.

You know the Christmas routine: Decorate the tree, wrap gifts and leave out treats for Santa on Christmas Eve.

Marketers and Hollywood reinforce that cookie tradition for us year after year.

Panettone may have once sounded exotic, but these days, the dome-shaped Italian fruit bread is readily available on American grocery store shelves. And if you're ready to expand your repertoire of global holiday breads, there are many more yeasty, doughy traditions to nibble on. And they all remind us how expensive, imported fruits — like Greek currants and Italian candied citrus peel — have long been a part of our most treasured Christmas foods.

Here, a brief tour of five other fruited holiday breads from around the world.

Julekake

It's the time of the year when Katie Abrams sees her Fort Collins, Colo., neighbors pulling up with real trees tied to car roofs. She feels small pangs of jealousy when friends post woodsy pictures in flannel shirts, cutting down the perfect spruce.

This holiday season, one popular Christmas carol has been raising some questions here at NPR headquarters. Namely:

"Oh, bring us some figgy pudding, oh, bring us some figgy pudding, oh — "

Wait. What is figgy pudding?

First of all, it's "absolutely delicious," says Debbie Waugh, who recently served the dish at a tea at the Historic Green Spring House in Alexandria, Va.

Figgy pudding — also known as plum pudding or Christmas pudding — is a staple of the British Christmas table, she says.

Shiso Kitchen, just outside of Boston, is capitalizing on recent American food fetish. There, Jess Roy teaches people like you and me how to cook like a celebrity chef.

Until she started her business two years ago, Roy taught at Le Cordon Bleu Boston. It's now one of 16 Le Cordon Bleu schools in the U.S. due to close after graduating its current crop of students.

The French culinary institute Le Cordon Bleu is iconic to Americans, thanks to its famous graduate, Julia Child, who helped bring classic French cuisine into the American kitchen.

It was the best of pies, it was the worst of pies. I have baked many, many, many pies.

And when I first began making pumpkin pies this autumn, my results were at best inconsistent and, at worst, disastrous.

On the outside, the clothbound book looked innocuous enough. Titled The Candle and The Flame, The Work of George Sylvester Viereck, it appeared to be the work of a once famous, now disgraced German-American poet. But instead of printed lines of verse, the book contained only blank pages.

Beginning in 1921, a New Yorker named Victor Alfred Lyon filled it with recipe after recipe for homemade alcohols and mixed drinks. Over the next decade, this little book of "poems" became the comprehensive formulary of a Prohibition-era bootlegger.

An attachment to the last-minute spending proposal going before Congress this week would end a six-year trade dispute between the U.S. and Canada. If it's passed, as seems likely, the omnibus budget bill would repeal a law called COOL that requires "country-of-origin labels" on meat.

Thanks to Nat King Cole, it's hard to think of chestnuts without conjuring an image of them "roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose." These days, tough, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone roasting American chestnuts over an open fire. The trees and the nuts have all but disappeared.

But now, scientists are excited about the discovery of an American chestnut tree in the woods of western Maine, a record-breaking tree that's giving them hope for the future.

On March 27, 2013, John Sweeney, a plumber from Ireland, started a Facebook page called Suspended Coffees. His message was simple: Buy a cup of coffee for a stranger, because an act of kindness can change a life. Eight hours later, the page had attracted more than 20,000 likes.

When lawmakers — and lobbyists — use the budget bill as a vehicle to slip in new policies or upend regulations, it reminds me of my kids at the grocery store.

They ask for Nutella. I say "No." But when I'm not looking, they slip it into the cart. And it's only the next day I see it slathered on toast.

A common nuisance of wandering the world is travelers' diarrhea. Food in many regions of the world isn't always properly handled, and that can put you in bed for several days.

It is no secret that the rise in obesity in America has something to do with food. But how much? And what role does the food industry as a whole play?

As part of Here & Now's series this week on obesity, America on the Scale, host Jeremy Hobson spoke with investigative reporter Michael Moss of The New York Times.

Maybe it started with that one ambitious friend with the homebrew habit. Or that co-worker who quietly obsesses about Malaysian food at home, after work. Maybe you know someone who orders unpronounceable spice mixes online, in bulk, or spends a long weekend building a smoker out of concrete blocks.

A few days ago, we offered up some tips for playing it cool at the office holiday party. And we asked for your stories.

We got about 8,400 responses to our informal survey. It turns out, about 1 in 4 of you revelers acknowledged getting too tipsy at an office soiree — and later regretting your behavior. Perhaps not surprisingly, 80 percent of you said you've seen co-workers embarrass themselves after overimbibing.

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