From marbles and barbats to challah

… via Greek-American food in Old Saybrook CT. A Zippyesque journey in today’s strip:


Marbles. Having all of them, lacking some, losing them.

From NOAD2:

noun marble: 3 (one’s marbles) informal one’s mental faculties: I thought she’d lost her marbles, asking a question like that.

And from Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words site on 9/9/06:

The earliest example given in the standard references is from It’s Up to You; A Story of Domestic Bliss, by George V Hobart, dated 1902: “I see-sawed back and forth between Clara J. and the smoke-holder like a man who is shy some of his marbles.”

That certainly sounds like the modern meaning of marbles, which as you say refers to one’s sanity. But in an earlier appearance, the writer used it to mean angry, not insane (mad, that is, in the common US sense rather than the British one). It was printed in the Lima News of Ohio in July 1898: “He picked up the Right Honorable Mr Hughes on a technicality, and although that gentleman is reverential in appearance as Father Abraham and as patient as Job, he had, to use an expression of the street, lost his ‘marbles’ most beautifully and stomped on the irascible Harmon, very much à la Bull in the china shop.”

The origin must surely come from the boys’ game of marbles, which was very common at the time. To play was always to run the risk of losing all one’s marbles and the result might easily be anger, frustration, and despair. That would account for the 1898 example and it’s hardly a step from there to the wider meaning of mad — to do something senseless or stupid.

Barbats. Or bar bats. A frequent Zippy-related topic on this blog. See, for example, my 12/31/12 posting “The Dingburger bar bat, or barbat”, about Poindexter barbats.

Apropos of nothing in particular (beyond the fact that this blog has been short of shirtless men recently), here’s a Romanian barbat:

(#2) Rom. barbat ‘man’ (illustrating gratuitous shirtlessness)

The number 93. I have no idea.

The Old Saybrook Diner. Aka the Parthenon Diner in Old Saybrook CT:

(#3) Welcome to the Parthenon Diner Restaurant: Serving the CT Shoreline with 2 locations (Old Saybrook and Branford)

The beginning of their ad copy:

The Parthenon Diner Restaurant is a family business started in 1985. It has won many awards for Best Diner, Best Breakfast ad Best Greek Food for many years by the New Haven Advocate Readers Poll.

Old Saybrook, on the southern coast of New England:

(#4) At the bottom: eastern tip of Long Island NY. Top left: CT. Top right: RI. To the north (not on this map): MA.

Breakfast at the Old Saybrook          :



There’s a lot here to reflect on. The diner is ornamentally Greek, which is to say, vaguely Greek-American here and there (feta cheese, spinach, olives), and mostly it’s classic American plain diner fare with large numbers of borrowings from other food cultures, American and otherwise: Nutella, the mixed grill, California cuisine (avocados, a California yoghurt bowl — yoghut with granola and fresh fruit — under the name Greek yoghurt parfait, meaning [Greek yoghurt][parfait]), New Orleans, Mexican, a Philly steak sandwich (well, steak and American cheese) folded into an omelette, and more. Two notable bows to Jewish cuisine (conveying New York City here): bagels (especially with lox and cream cheese) and challah bread, plain or as toast.

The challah especially caught my eye, since we’re now in the High Holidays / High Holy Days (Rosh Hashana was last week, Yom Kippur is in a couple of days), prime time for challah baking.

From Wikipedia:

(#7) Braided challahs (though round challahs are customary for the High Holidays)

Challah (plural: challot or challos) is a special Jewish bread, usually braided and typically eaten on ceremonial occasions such as Sabbath and major Jewish holidays (other than Passover). Ritually-acceptable challah is made of dough from which a small portion has been set aside as an offering.

… Most traditional Ashkenazi challah recipes use numerous eggs, fine white flour, water, sugar, yeast, and salt, but “water challah” made without eggs and having a texture not unlike French baguettes also exists. Modern recipes may replace white flour with whole wheat, oat, or spelt flour or sugar with honey or molasses.

… Poppy or sesame (Ashkenazi) and anise or sesame (Sephardic) seeds may be added to the dough or sprinkled on top. Both egg and water challah are usually brushed with an egg wash before baking to add a golden sheen.

Yes, there’s a lot of variation, and a certain amount of disagreement about which style is best. This is what happens when you start with marbles and barbats.

One Response to “From marbles and barbats to challah”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Chris Waigl on Facebook:

    I taught myself baking challah with this excellent recipe (in French, from a really good pastry baking blog):
    She has also videos with braiding instructions, but I usually go for the unbraided version (under “Autre forme de Hallot”), which I agree with the author gives a lighter and fluffier result. (She also says, “Les anglo-saxons utilisent comme orthographe challah et les français hallah”, which is a little more categorical than I’d agree with, but overall a good thing to keep in mind. There’s also the very natural use of “anglo-saxon”, which always completely confuses Melinda though it’s exactly how the term is used in French or German for that matter (angelsächsisch).)

    One thing that I realized immediately is that challah is basically identical to the Bavarian Hefezopf, except that the latter uses butter instead of oil and milk instead of water, the absence of dairy being of course to be expected in Jewish baking.

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