Five finger foods that won’t break the bank

If you read Phoebe and Cara’s tips on throwing a classy holiday party on the cheap (we’re all about class over here at NTK), you might be wondering, “OK, what now?” Here are Big Girl, Small Kitchen’s picks for five elegant, wallet-friendly finger foods that are sure to impress even the scroogiest of partygoers.

1. Shrimp & Mango Wonton Crisps
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Holiday entertaining made easy

With all the gift-giving and travel planning that goes into the holiday season, entertaining can seem totally out of the question for many of us. Who has the time, energy or funds to throw a party? And then you have to clean up? Pass.

But fearing a lonely, hungry December, we turned to our friends Phoebe and Cara at the blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen for some tips on throwing a holiday party with all of the fun and none of the stress. They shared eight easy tips:
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Photo: Eat. Sleep. Charm. Repeat.

Photo: San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s newest cheetah cub, Kiburi, weighs only 1.4 pounds but is a super-heavyweight charmer. Kiburi, which means “proud” in Swahili, must be hand raised after his mother Makena showed signs of abandoning him shortly after his birth on November 14. He has become a star at the Safari Park nursery, where visitors can watch him eat and play, but most often sleep, which he does 20 to 22 hours a day. Recently, he’s been learning to play and practicing his pounce.

You can watch Kiburi in action on the zoo’s website.

Photo: New kind of life in the poison lake

Photo: Bert Dennison via Flickr/bertdennisonphotography

Mono Lake just outside of Yosemite National Park in California is a hauntingly beautiful place. In 1941, water that fed the lake through tributary streams was diverted 350 miles south to meet the water needs of Los Angeles. Without its natural sources of fresh water, the volume of Mono Lake dropped to half. This caused its salinity level to double and led to the collapse of the lake ecosystem. Exposed lake beds produced toxic alkali dust storms on windy days.

One of the oldest lakes in North America had, in a very short period of time, became a poisoned alkaline lake containing chlorides, carbonates and sulfates. At one point, it was three times as salty as the ocean. In 1994, the California State Water Resources Control Board issued an order to protect and restore Mono Lake and its tributary streams, and since then, the water level in the lake has steadily risen. Water restoration efforts are estimated to last 20 years.

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Can you celebrate secession without celebrating slavery?

Can you celebrate secession without celebrating slavery? That question seems to be the core tension surrounding the upcoming celebrations of the American Civil War’s 150-year anniversary. The New York Times recently reported on a series of events over the next four years that commemorate the sesquicentennial, including a “Secession Ball,” a candlelight memorial at Antietam, a parade in Montgomery, Alabama, and a mock swearing-in of the Confederacy’s would-be president, Jefferson Davis.

The legacy of slavery that was central to the Civil War is no cause for celebration, of course; in fact, many of these memorial events will hardly be mentioning it. Michael Givens of the Sons of Confederate Veterans told the New York Times that “our people were only fighting to protect themselves from an invasion and for their independence.” Jeff Antley, another member of the organization and Secession Ball organizer, said that “defending the South’s right to secede, the soldiers’ right to defend their homes and the right to self-government doesn’t mean your arguments are without weight because of slavery.”

But the failure to recognize the role of slavery at all has left several others aghast. Lonnie Randolph, the president of the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP told the New York Times that promoting the Confederacy’s idea of “states’ rights” really refers to “their idea of one right — to buy and sell human beings.”

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Taking conspiracy theories seriously

A police explosives expert prepares a controlled blast of a suspected parcel bomb in Athens on Nov. 1, 2010. Photo: AP/Thanassis Stavrakis

Every now and then, I come across a publication conferring incisive analytic heft to cultural phenomena that society usually considers undeserving of serious consideration. The last great one I read, for example, was Harry Frankfurt’s treatise, On Bullsh*t. When deftly executed, such writing can start with a knowing wink, but quickly plunge the reader into the unexpected depths of seemingly shallow waters. I recently found a paper from U.K. think tank Demos that provided just such a dunking.

The Power of Unreason: Conspiracy Theories, Extremism and Counter-terrorism is a discourse on how many extremist groups use conspiracy theories as a “radicalizing multiplier” of their ideologies; in some cases, even as a spur to violent behavior. The topic has certainly been explored before, but the Demos paper is a more thoughtful wake-up call to the real life impact that conspiracy theories may have on the rest of us sheep-like masses.

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Photo: Taking a stand by sitting down

Rosa Parks riding on a Montgomery Area Transit System bus in 1956. Photo: AP

On this day 55 years ago, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks violated a Montgomery, Alabama, city ordinance requiring black people to ride in the “colored” section of a public bus. Parks, 42, was actually sitting in the designated section, but because the bus was full, the bus driver demanded she and three other riders give up their seats to whites. When she refused, the driver, James F. Blake, had her arrested. Her act of civil disobedience led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ultimately succeeded in a court ruling desegregating public transportation in Montgomery and sparked the nationwide civil rights movement. Almost 10 years later in 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which ended racial segregation and guaranteed full access to all public facilities throughout the United States.

A look at the long-awaited food safety bill

Photo: Flickr/Lou Bueno

In response to the approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year due to foodborne illnesses, the Senate finally passed the nation’s first food safety bill. The bill would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to stop outbreaks of sickness from unsafe foods before they arrive on kitchen tables. Currently the FDA can only order voluntary recalls, but under the new bill, the FDA would have the authority to require farmers and food processors to explain how they are working to keep their food safe at different stages of production and demand a recall if the food is tainted.

The $1.4 billion bill, which would also place stricter standards on imported foods, passed the Senate by a vote of 73 to 25. The bill still needs to be approved by the House, which passed its own bill last year.

Although the bill would affect about 80 percent of the food supply, it does not apply to meat. Need to Know asked David Plunkett, senior staff attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), why meat was left out and other questions about the bill (S. 510). CSPI is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and education organization that focuses largely on food safety and nutrition issues. The group supported the bill.

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Photo: A human canvas

A man is tattooed during "Tattooame," an exhibition held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from Nov. 26 to Nov. 28, 2010. Photo: AP/Natacha Pisarenko