Most Expensive Meat

Jamón Ibérico de bellota refers to the cured leg of a pata negra pig that has been raised free-range in the old-growth oak forests of western Spain. The pigs eat a diet rich in acorns, wild mushrooms, herbs, and grasses, yielding meat that’s richly flavored and low in saturated fat. Each ham is cured for a minimum of two years before reaching the market.

A 15-pound bone-in leg of jamón Ibérico de bellota retails for around $1,300, or $87 per pound.

6-Expensive-Ingredients-608

The acorn-rich forests of western Spain make up an ecosystem that exists nowhere else in the world, and each pig requires at least 2 acres of land for ample foraging. That, in turn, strictly limits the amount of jamón Ibérico de Bellota available each year.

George Edward Pickett, a Confederate Army General, Was In Fact a Woman

george pickett

Newly disclosed information found in the last will of George Pickett’s father, Colonel Robert Pickett, proves without a doubt the confederate war general was a woman.

The discovery was made at an auction in Austin, Texas, this week as american historian Graham Brown got his hands on the precious document. The will proves without a doubt the famous general who participated in the Battle of Gettysburg was in fact Mary Sue Pickett, his older sister. It also appears clearly evident that George Edward Pickett was never part of any military enterprise, but instead, that his sister was in fact the real ‘man’ behind the legend.

Official documents of the Pickett family released at the auction included documents confirming the death by tuberculosis of George Pickett at the tender age of 16. The death of the only boy of the family of eight possibly devastated his father, Colonel Robert Pickett, who dreamed of leaving a family military legacy behind him. “It was not uncommon at the time to fake documents or steal someone’s identity. What is truly interesting in this case, is that the former Colonel decided to send his daughter at the United States Military Academy in the place of his son and that she eventually showed to possess extraordinary military leadership” claims the Austin based historian.

Mary Sue Pickett, who was George Pickett’s senior by one year, was also known to suffer from a rare genetic disorder known as hypertrichosis, a condition where an excess of androgen creates an hormonal unbalance that results in female beard growth. “This particular condition played a great part in hiding her true identity to others throughout her adult life” admits John Adams White, an american Civil War historian and expert, who was the first to point out discrepancies in George Pickett’s biography. “The discovery of the will of Colonel Robert Pickett finally explains important anachronistic elements of the man’s life” he concedes.

A Fargo Death

Have you ever seen the movie Fargo? If the answer isn’t “Yah, you betcha,” then you should probably check it out. Widely hailed as one of the best films of the ’90s, Fargo won multiple awards and was inducted into the US National Film Registry. It also inspired one of the weirdest legends in cinema history . . . a story that’s almost completely untrue.

In November 2001, citizens of Bismarck, North Dakota noticed a stranger in their city. After all, she was hard to miss. She was Japanese, couldn’t really speak English, and was wearing a miniskirt, boots, and a black leather backpack. As one police officer later pointed out, “Girls in North Dakota don’t dress like that. Probably ’cause of the weather.” In other words, she stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb.

A worried truck driver dropped the young woman off at the local police station, hoping the officers could help her out. Instead, they were completely baffled. They learned that the girl’s name was Takako Konishi and that she was from Tokyo. Other than that, they were at a loss, especially when she pulled out her homemade map. She obviously wanted to go someplace but where and why? That’s when Takako started saying the word “Fargo.”

Suddenly, one of the more film-savvy officers remembered the plot to the Coen Brother’s classic crime drama. In the film, a bumbling car salesman desperately needs some cash, so he concocts a crazy scheme to kidnap his wife for ransom. Unfortunately, he hires two idiotic crooks to carry out the plot, and as you might guess, it doesn’t go according to plan. After a whole lot of bloodshed, one of the kidnappers ends up with a suitcase full of money. Wanting to hide the dough from his partner, he buries it in a snow bank and marks the spot with a red ice scraper.

Of course, he never makes it back to pick up the cash, and the suitcase is lost in a Midwestern blizzard. So what did this have to do with Takako’s map? Well, at the beginning of Fargo, there’s a title card that reads, “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987.” Naturally, the officers assumed Takako was looking for the lost treasure . . . only it didn’t exist. The “true story” bit was just a joke on the part of directors Joel and Ethan Coen. The movie Fargo was completely fictional.

But the cops couldn’t explain this to Takako. They couldn’t speak Japanese, and her English dictionary wasn’t helping any. They even tried phoning several Chinese restaurants in search of a translator, but by the end of the day, they still hadn’t gotten through to her. She eventually wandered away, and the next morning, they received a phone call from a Minnesota detective. Takako had been found dead in the woods near the town of Detroit Lakes. She’d died looking for the ransom money.

At least that’s what the media said. Newspapers across the nation ran the story of a confused Japanese girl looking for a suitcase that wasn’t even real. Eventually, the tale became part of movie lore, but just like Fargo, the legend of Takako Konishi is a work of fiction. True, she really died in the woods, but she wasn’t looking for any money. Three weeks after her death, Takako’s parents received a suicide note in the mail. As it turns out, Takako had fallen in love with a married American businessman. The couple had even visited Minnesota on several occasions, but now the guy wanted to end the relationship.

Lonely and depressed, Takako flew to North Dakota, searching for her lover. Sadly, no one understood what she was talking about or who she was looking for and couldn’t give her directions. They thought she was just a big Coen brother fan hunting for buried loot. And when she couldn’t find her old admirer, she decided to kill herself. On her last night alive, Takako managed to ask a hotel clerk for a good place to look at the stars, and that’s how a heartbroken girl from Tokyo ended up dead in the Minnesota woods.

Six Things You Didn’t Know About Bonnie and Clyde

a-bonnie-and-clyde-e1346263861492

1. Although Barrow and Parker claimed to be married, Parker remained legally married to her first husband, Roy Thornton. On the day she died, she still wore his wedding ring and bore a tattoo on her knee with intertwined hearts and their names, Bonnie and Roy.

2. Bonnie and Clyde were both short. Parker was only 4’11″ and Barrow 5’4″ at a time when average heights for women and men were about 5’3″ and 5’8″. (Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, who played Bonnie and Clyde in the famous 1967 film stood 5’7″ and 6’2″ respectively.)

Bonnie-and-Clyde_Lovers-on-the-Lamb_HD_768x432-16x9

3. Parker was an honor student and a poet, and life as one of America’s most wanted didn’t stifle those interests. Shortly before her death, Parker wrote a poem called “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” which was published in several newspapers and immortalized their tale.

4. Parker and Barrow remained close to their families, even on the run. In fact, it was their predictable pattern of stopping to visit family that aided the team of Texas Rangers and deputies who ambushed and killed them.

5. The pair attained such notoriety that hordes of people flocked to the scene of their death and later to the coroner’s to retrieve “souvenirs.” Some attempted to cut off Barrow’s ear or finger; others took snippets of Parker’s blood-soaked dress or shattered window glass. One man offered Barrow’s father over $30,000 for Barrow’s body—the equivalent of over $600,000 today.

Bonnie&Clyde

6. Eight decades later, the morbidly curious can see Bonnie and Clyde’s bullet-ridden death car on display at Whiskey Pete’s Casino in Primm, Nevada, outside of Las Vegas.

Woman Drives Coast to Coast

In 1909, driving was a man’s task. As one doctor wrote, “A speed of 15 or 20 miles an hour in a motor causes [women] acute mental suffering, nervous excitement, and circulatory disturbances.” Some worried that riding in open-air cars would lead to “automobile face,” an unfortunate—and hypothetical—condition in which the wind would blow women’s mouths into permanent gapes.

alice ramsey

These notions were terrible for women. They were also terrible for the auto business. Sexism was cutting the potential market in half! The car company, Maxwell, realized that getting women in the driver’s seat would boost sales, so it put PR man Carl Kelsey on the case. But Kelsey knew he needed more than a few newspaper ads to change public opinion; he needed a spectacle. He began looking for a woman he could challenge to drive from coast to coast.

Kelsey found the perfect adventurer in 22-year-old Alice Huyler Ramsey. The Vassar grad had been out for a horseback ride the previous year when a car’s horn had spooked her mount. After the incident, her husband reasoned that cars were probably safer than horses and persuaded his wife to buck social norms by driving a Maxwell. She even competed in motoring competitions, where she jockeyed around hay bales and other obstacles.

When Kelsey pitched his idea to Ramsey over dinner, she jumped at the opportunity. Ramsey would later say, “I did it because it was a challenge and because I knew it would be fun.” She roped two sisters-in-law and a friend into joining her, strictly for company, of course, since only Ramsey knew how to drive. Maxwell would provide them with a set of wheels, any supplies they needed, and a PR man to travel ahead of them to drum up coverage. On June 9, 1909, the quartet set out from a Maxwell showroom in Manhattan.

The trip may have been a publicity stunt, but Ramsey and her crew were self-sufficient. They changed 11 tires over the course of their journey and did their own mechanical repairs to the Maxwell. And there was plenty of tinkering to be done. Although it was brand-new, their green 1909 Maxwell Model DA was hardly an ideal vehicle for a long drive. Its four-cylinder engine kicked out just 30 horsepower. The car was also open-air, and, although it could be covered with a canvas top, it lacked a windshield. Making matters worse, the Maxwell’s tires had no tread, rendering the drive on sandy and muddy paths tricky. To traverse the makeshift roads, Ramsey and her pals packed a large canvas tarp that they unrolled on particularly slippery stretches to help the car putter along. When things got really rough, the group paid horsemen to tow them from the mud.

alice ramsey2

Tougher still, Ramsey didn’t have the benefit of a network of interstate highways or even an atlas outlining the full route! She and her navigators relied on a series of local maps, which meant a lot of getting lost and backtracking. All told, Ramsey drove 3,800 miles, of which just 152 were paved.

The trip took 59 days, and when the Maxwell finally pulled into San Francisco, the Chronicle trumpeted: PRETTY WOMEN MOTORISTS ARRIVE AFTER TRIP ACROSS THE CONTINENT. The headline wasn’t exactly a feminist masterpiece, but Ramsey and her pals had proved that women could drive as well as any man. Or, as Ramsey told an interviewer, “Good driving has nothing to do with sex. It’s all above the collar.”

Seven Plants That Can Save The World

Perennial wheat
perennial wheat
Grains are the staple food of humanity: the vast majority of people on the planet eat either rice, wheat, or corn on a daily basis, and those are all annual crops. The issue with annuals, which complete their life cycle in a few months and must then be replanted, is that they require tremendous inputs of water, fertilizer and, often, pesticides, and herbicides, in order to remain productive on the same plot of land each year. The constant tillage required to plant and replant grains slowly degrades soil over time and leads to erosion by water and wind. That said, many modern plant breeders have been hard at work in recent years attempting to domesticate some of the perennial grains that are found in nature, because they require a fraction of the agricultural inputs for the amount of yield when compared to their annual cousins. Researchers at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas are leading the way and have already developed a strain of perennial wheat called Kernza, though they say it may be another ten years before they have perfected it as a crop to replace annual wheat.

Azolla
azolla
Azolla is a tiny floating aquatic fern that grows naturally in wetlands all over the world. Individual azolla ferns are about the size of a thumbtack, but they are considered one of the fastest growing species on the planet, as they can double their quantity every other day in warm shallow water. The reason for this is their ability to absorb atmospheric nitrogen and convert into a form of all-natural, fast-acting fertilizer. Humans have been taking advantage of this trait for millennia, incorporating azolla as a member of aquatic polycultures, primarily in the rice padis of Asia. In recent times, azolla has been grown as a form of organic fertilizer, a source of bio-energy and as a sustainable alternative to corn and soy for use in livestock feed. Its phenomenal growth rate makes it a promising plant for the purposes of carbon sequestration, which is currently under study at the Azolla Institute.

Algae
algae
Algae range in size from unicellular organisms to giant kelp over a hundred feet in length. Like azolla, their aquatic nature allows an incredibly fast growth rate making them a prime target for biological research. Some species are edible, bringing micronutrients into the human diet that are deficient in modern agricultural crops. Some species are grown as organic fertilizer, while others are used in biological filtration of sewage. But the potential of algae as a fuel source is where it gets really exciting. They can grow in shallow water, even salty water, making it possible to produce fuel on land unsuitable for agriculture. Algae grows so fast, it is harvested weekly, rather than annually. It is estimated that 15,000 square miles of algae production could supply the United States with all of its fuel needs – that’s about 1/7 of the land currently planted in corn in this country. Some algae fuel is already being sold and experts predict that by 2025 the technology will be refined to the point where the price per gallon will break even with the cost of petroleum.

Sedum
sedum
Unlike algae and azolla, sedums like it dry. They grow naturally from cracks in the sides of cliffs, meaning they survive both intense heat and extreme cold equally well and have little need for either soil or water. These traits make sedums perfect for vegetating rooftops and walls — they are the preeminent species for living architecture and are already in widespread use for this purpose. Plus, they have beautiful succulent foliage that comes in an array of soft color tones, making it possible for buildings to become living works of art.

Bamboo
bamboo
Bamboo is probably the fastest growing terrestrial plant—some species shoot up 2 to 3 feet a day, creating enchanting groves in the process. Bamboo is edible, useful for building and can be used to make fiber, paper and a biodegradable alternative to plastic. Of course, there are many other plants that fulfill these purposes, but bamboo has the advantage of being a perennial grass. It can be harvested again and again without replanting, making it useful for reforestation projects to heal land that has been degraded by conventional forms of forestry and agriculture.

Bracken Fern
bracken fern
Some plants grow surprisingly well in conditions that are toxic to others. Bracken ferns, which are a weedy fern species growing on disturbed land all over the world, have an uncanny ability to grow in soils polluted with heavy metals, like lead, nickel, cadmium, copper and arsenic. Scientists have been experimenting with using them to remove heavy metals from contaminated industrial sites, as the ferns actually absorb them from the soil and store them in their tissues. After being allowed to mature, the ferns are then harvested and incinerated. The resulting ash contains large quantities of the precious metals which are then recycled for other uses.

Chestnuts
chestnuts
Like perennial wheat, chestnuts have the potential to serve as a staple food source that improves environmental quality rather than degrades it, as most modern agricultural systems do. They are enormous trees that live for hundreds of years, and, unlike most nut crops, they are relatively low in protein and high in carbohydrates, with a nutritional composition roughly equivalent to potatoes. Their high-calorie, low-protein nutritional profile makes them one of the only tree nuts suitable as a staple food. In fact, they were the number one staple food in the hilly regions of the Mediterranean basin in southern Europe until the early 19th century, where they were ground into flour and used for bread. Chestnut trees thrive in the dry, infertile soils of the region, where grains cannot be cultivated on a large scale. Thus, they have the potential to make marginal agricultural lands into highly productive forested landscapes, with all the benefits of natural forests and none of the environmental costs associated with the large-scale production of annual grains.

$36 Million Chinese Bowl

ming bowl

A small Ming dynasty-era bowl dubbed the “chicken cup” sold for US$36.3 million at a Sotheby’s sale in Hong Kong recently, setting a record for the most expensive Chinese porcelain ever sold at auction.

The buyer, Shanghai-based collector Liu Yiqian, didn’t flinch at the final tally.

“Why do you all care so much about the price?” he said in a telephone interview after the sale, adding that he thought the amount he paid was reasonable.

“I bought it only because I like it,” said Mr. Liu, who made his fortune in finance. He also owns, along with his wife Wang Wei, the Long Museum in Shanghai, a private museum that houses a portion of his vast collection.

The cup was made in imperial kilns during the emperor Chenghua’s reign in the 15th-century.

Chicken cups have long been prized among wealthy Chinese, with classical literature referencing the small wares, saying aristocrats and emperors would spend fortunes for a single sample. Porcelains made during the Chenghua period are regarded as the most refined by collectors.

The small cup, which got its nickname thanks to the painted depiction of chickens on the side of the cup, is one of 19 chicken cups known to exist in the world. All but four are in museum collections.

The auction room at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre was packed, with more than 250 people sitting and standing to see the final price. Bidding lasted seven minutes and by the time it was over, it was a two-way tussle between Mr. Liu, who placed his bid on the phone via Sotheby’s Asia Chief Executive Kevin Ching, and Giuseppe Eskenazi, a London-based dealer.

The cup was part of the Meiyintang collection owned by the Swiss Zuellig family. The Zuelligs have been selling off their collection gradually in recent years.

Nicholas Chow, Sotheby’s top expert in Chinese ceramics, called the chicken cup the “holy grail” of Chinese porcelains. “Every time a chicken cup comes to market, it redefines prices,” he said after the sale.

The cup’s new owner, Mr. Liu, has previously been at the center of controversy in the Chinese art world despite being one of the country’s largest collectors. Mr. Liu is confident about the provenance of the chicken cup, adding that he plans to eventually exhibit his new acquisition at his museum for the public to view.

“I will show it at an appropriate time,” he said. “You will see it.”