Why We Like a Fizzy Drink on a Hot Day


Eepy Bird- the hobby scientist team famous for successfully harnessing the explosive power of carbonation to create the world’s first Diet Coke-powered car.


By all accounts, we shouldn’t like carbonation.
The defining sensation is pain. It’s what we call the ‘bite’ that’s felt when the carbon dioxide bubbles dissolve into acid in the mouth and tweak pain centers in the brain. Scientists believe that this reaction is a gift of evolution that’s meant to keep us from drinking carbonated beverages because carbonation in nature is associated with the toxicity of rotten food. It’s meant to repel us for our own safety and animals will almost never touch the stuff.

But the bubbles do refresh.
Carbonation diminishes our ability to taste sweetness (that’s one reason why sodas are loaded with sugar), and that enhances the astringent clean-mouth feeling of fizzy drinks. Carbonated beverages also seem colder than they really are. The bubbles don’t lower the temperature but they increase our perception of coldness.

Carbonated soft drinks are traced back to the publication of an 18th century scientific paper titled Impregnating Water with Fixed Air.
Beer and sparkling wine, which carbonate naturally during fermentation, had been enjoyed for a century when an Englishman figured out how to infuse water with gas. The first fizzy drinks were made by dripping sulfuric acid onto chalk to produce carbon dioxide gas, and then dissolving the gas in a bowl of distilled water. Early commercial uses for the discovery were medicinal, but within a few decades effervescent waters were being sweetened and flavored with fruit and herbal extracts, and by the 1830’s the general public was bellying up to soda fountains.

Soda is the past, club soda is the future.
Sugar-sweetened soft drinks are associated with obesity, tooth decay, low nutrient levels, and a long list of weight-related diseases including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and elevated blood pressure. They’re linked to kidney stones, skeletal weakness, and troubling levels of caffeine, benzene, and alcohol. Diet soda cuts the sugar but not the health risks. There’s little evidence that removing the sugar helps with weight loss, and the artificial sweeteners are themselves problematic. That’s why more and more consumers are reaching for carbonated water—sales are up by nearly 60% in just the last five years. No sugar, no alcohol, no caffeine, it’s just water with bubbles. It won’t put cellulite on your thighs, leach calcium from your bones, or rot the enamel on your teeth. Sparkling water hydrates and refreshes with the characteristic ‘bite’ of effervescence that you’re looking for on a hot day. Barring a medical condition that precludes carbonated beverages, there’s no reason not to drink up.

All fizzy water is not created equal. 

Seltzer is just plain water with added carbonation.

Club soda is seltzer with added minerals like potassium bicarbonate, potassium sulfate, sodium bicarbonate, and sodium citrate. It’s got the slightest hint of salt and mineral flavor.

Sparkling mineral water contains naturally occurring minerals because the water comes from a well or underground spring. Depending on the source, the carbonation can also occur naturally from gases in the water or be added at the time of bottling. Minerals like sodium and sulphur tend to give the water a weighty feel and distinctive taste.

Tonic water has added carbonation and quinine, a powdered substance that comes from South American tree bark, and usually a sweetener and citrus flavoring. Tonic water started life as a medicine due to to anti-malarial qualities of quinine. It was widely prescribed in the 19th and 20th centuries in Britain’s tropical colonies where gin was used to mask its bitter and medicinal taste.


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Has the High Price of Eggs Got You Down? Rent a Chicken.



Egg prices have more than doubled in most of the country and there are more increases to come.
An avian flu outbreak that struck farms in egg-producing mid-western states has led to the deaths of more than 48 million chickens causing wholesale prices to skyrocket—a record-breaking 85% jump in May alone. Because most of the affected birds were egg-laying or breeding chickens as opposed to those raised for meat, it’s wreaked havoc on chicken economics. For the first time ever, eggs are a more expensive form of protein than chicken breasts.

Measures for these desperate times.
The egg shortage forced the Whataburger chain to abbreviate its breakfast service, Rita’s franchises substituted eggless soft-serve for its signature frozen custard, and Chinese-American Panda Express tried putting the yellow in its fried rice with corn kernels. But for everyone with a backyard there’s another option: chicken rentals.

People lease cars because it’s less hassle and commitment than ownership; same with chickens.
There’s a slew of poultry leasers out there with regional and even national presence like Rent the Chicken, Rent-a-Chicken, The Easy Chicken, Urban Chicken Rentals, Coop and Caboodle, and Rent a Coop. They all follow pretty much the same formula: For around $150 a month, they deliver two or more hens that are of egg-laying age, a portable chicken coop, food, bedding, and supplies to last the rental period, and an instruction manual. The rental season usually runs from late spring to early fall, the prime laying season with long daylight hours and warmer temperatures when a chicken produces about an egg a day. At the end of the rental period, the leasing company comes to retrieve the whole setup,

Poultry leasers report that about half of their renters have grown so attached to the chickens that they opt to purchase them outright rather than return them for the winter. These are backyard farmers who got hooked on the fresh eggs, the feathered pet-like creatures, and some serious locavore bragging rights. Others are relieved to hand back filthy, shrieking fowl that barely edge out snakes in cuddliness, and are prone to ailments like poultry mites and pasty butt.

For those inclined toward the latter version of avian husbandry, you can always lease your own little piece of the farm while keeping your fingernails clean with Rent Mother Nature. There are no laying hens but you can lay claim to a beehive in the Catskills, an oyster bed on the Puget Sound, a lobster trap off the coast of Maine, or a pistachio tree in the Arizona desert, and for one season the harvest is yours. You can lease a dairy cow and the farmer will ship back wheels of cheese, the sap from your stand of sugar maples comes to you as syrup, and the wheat from your leased acre of farmland is milled into flour. Rent Mother Nature sends out periodic progress reports during the growing season, and many of the farmers welcome personal visits from lease-holders. There’s a minimum guaranteed bounty with a roll-over to the next season if it’s not met, and your larder will overflow if there’s a bumper crop.


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Read ’em and Weep: 100 Salads that are Worse than a Big Mac



CCF_BarbequeRanchChickenSaladimgresimagesimages   images-3images-2

Just a few members of the salad hall of shame

Salad is never going to win a popularity contest against a hamburger.
Or a burrito or a plate of pasta or a waffle. There’s really only one reason to order an entrée salad at a burger chain or a pancake house or a Mexican restaurant—because it’s healthier than the fat and calorie-laden specialties of the house.

Of course salad has its faults. Everyone knows to look out for cheese and croutons and to go easy on the creamy dressings. But worse than a Big Mac in terms of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories? The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine analyzed the nutrition data for salads at popular chain restaurants like Applebee’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Denny’s, and IHOP. The group chose the Big Mac as a nutritional yardstick believing it’s a kind of shorthand for everything that’s wrong with the American diet. They found more than a hundred salads, both side and entrée-sized, that are worse for you than McDonald’s iconic sandwich. You could even top off the burger with a couple of donuts and still not come close to the dietary damage done by some of these seemingly good-for-you choices.

Here are some of the worst offenders according to PCRM data:

Applebee’s Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach Salad
Applebee’s describes it as: Tender spinach, crisp bacon, roasted red peppers, red onions, toasted almonds and hot bacon vinaigrette topped with grilled shrimp.
PCRM defines it as a sodium disaster.

California Pizza Kitchen’s Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Salad
CPK says it’s: One of a kind, with roasted butternut squash, dates, avocado, toasted almonds, beets, red peppers, chopped egg and cranberries. Tossed with housemade Champagne vinaigrette.
PCRM says it’s more like three of a kind, if the three are the calories in a Big Mac.

IHOP’s Crispy Chicken Cobb Salad
IHOP dubbed it: The most satisfying salad. With crispy chicken, smoky bacon, hard-boiled egg, juicy tomatoes & tangy blue cheese crumbles all tossed in a tasty buttermilk ranch dressing.
PCRM calls it the most cholesterol—more than eight Big Macs put together.

You’ll find the complete list at the website of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Maybe you’d like a side salad with that burger? See why salad is just a gateway to french fries.


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Name That Scent: It’s more than just good smells and stinky ones.

image via WikiHow

image via WikiHow


Smell is the trickiest of the senses.
Touch is easy— it’s categorized as heat and cold, pressure and pain. Sight and sound are even more obvious; they’re both measurable physical phenomena, described through our perceptions of light and sound waves. Even taste is straightforward; there are countless variations but just five basic categories—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Only smell combines extraordinary precision—think of how many things you can identify by smell alone—while at the same time it’s the most subjective of the senses. A smell is impossible to describe to someone who’s never smelled it, and everyone’s perceptions are different, rooted in their own unique memories and associations.

We take more than 23,000 breaths each day, and each one is an opportunity to smell.
The world is awash in olfactory information. There are more than 100,000 smells floating around the globe, and it takes just eight microscopic particles to trigger a reaction in one of the five million receptor cells in our noses. The sensation is processed in the limbic region, the emotional center of the brain, where the sensory data get all tangled up in memories. That’s why a whiff of roasting turkey can flood you with warm and fuzzy memories of family Thanksgivings, or a fragrant bouquet of flowers will have you thinking of your beloved grandmother, even if you never knew that her hand cream was lily-scented.

Even though a smell can be sensed by just a handful of molecules reaching your nose, objects can have hundreds or even thousands of different volatile compounds all throwing off their own molecules. Each compound contributes a single core odor, and just 230 of them are food-related. A simple food like butter contains just three different odor compounds, strawberries have 12, and a complex wine can hit the upper limit with its aroma encoded by a combination of 40 different molecules.

Smell and taste are the sister senses, playing off of the same molecules.
About 80% of what we taste is due to our sense of smell. Without it we are perceiving only the building blocks of flavor– the sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. With it we have the nuance of an infinite universe of sensory combinations.

Fun olfactory facts:

  • Most of what you smell is coming through the left nostril. The reason you never noticed this is because 80% of noses are not in the middle of the face but pitched slightly to the right, so it seems like the smell is coming right up the middle.
  • Marijuana-induced munchies are not a gustatory phenomena so much as an olfactory one; cannabis enhances the sense of smell which leads to increased appetite.
  • Lose your sense of smell and you’ll lose your libido.
  • Your nose grows all-new scent receptors every 30 days.
  • The fatter you are the better the chocolate smells; scientists don’t know if this is cause or effect.


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Your Social Media Profile Rendered in Ice Cream

Which Gelato Flavor are You? PSFK is a Cocoa Rambutan Tangelo
You’re Sweet and Cool and Kind of Nutty.
You’ve already been assessed by Myers Briggs, done your colors, read your horoscope, and found your spirit animal. Now you can fine tune your personality typing with your own custom-matched gelato flavor.
Talenti Gelato launched a campaign called Flavorize Me that purports to create a flavor profile based on your social media profile.
It looks at your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts and analyzes keywords within your profiles and posts to identify compatible tastes. Then it matches those tastes with corresponding ingredients to create a custom flavor.


Flavorize Me creates a personalized ‘science-ing of your flavor,’ a mathematical breakdown and graphical representation of your results. Are you more sour than sweet? Maybe you’re molasses-sweetened with a balsamic vinegar glaze. Or you could be a well-balanced orange ricotta cinnamon toast. Or a spicy clove muffin peppercorn. Flavorize Me has a 25,000 keyword database and an algorithm that can create 50 million unique flavors.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 5.03.57 PM.png

The campaign runs until August 2, and in September Talenti will announce which six personal flavors will be going into production, with free pints for the winners. Until then, you can peruse the unique creations shared on Twitter using the hashtag #flavorizeme.


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Food Emojis: Look What You Can Do With Them!

Smile, You're Speaking Emoji by Zohar

Smile, You’re Speaking Emoji by Zohar Lazar


Emoji is the fastest growing language the world has ever seen.
That’s right, language. It’s syntactic enough that the UK Guardian printed an emoji transcript of President Obama’s last State of the Union Address, and the Library of Congress recently catalogued its first emoji title, Emoji Dicka faithful translation of the Melville classic. Four in ten of us have sent messages entirely made up of emoji, and only 2 in 10 texters can finesse meaning and nuance well enough to completely go without.

Food emoji 101
Emoji is overseen by the same Unicode Consortium that creates worldwide standards for all of the computing industry’s encoding and representation of language. Since emoji originated in Japan, it makes sense that many are emblematic of that country’s culture. Nowhere is this more obvious than with food emojis where symbols include a bento box imgres-3, fish cake imgres, and rice ball imgres-2. New emoji characters are regularly added as part of wider updates to the Unicode Standard, and recent additions reflect the growing influence of American texters.  The last batch included the burrito imgres-4, cheese wedge imgres, hot dog imgres-1, popcorn images, and the taco images-1, which made the cut after Taco Bell advocated for its inclusion, collecting more than 25,000 signatures on a Change.org petition. Never satisfied, food-loving texters and bloggers are constantly sharing their wishlists for the next round of emoji introductions. First We Feast nominates the red Solo cup, the Chinese takeout container, and portraits of notable food celebrities; Thrillist wants to see a waffle, a pretzel, and a shot glass; and everyone’s wondering what, no bacon?

Emojis are catalogued in the Emojipedia which currently lists 59 in the food and beverage category.
Here’s what you can do with them:

  • You can search the recipe archives of the New York Times by emoji,



or cook with a Bon Appétit Magazine emoji recipe.


  • Follow the emoji diet profiled in The Atlantic.

…This diet is essentially the opposite of Atkins. Of the 59 food emoji, eight incorporate rice, and 11 are desserts…



  • Recreate your favorite food emojis as their real-world correlates,


           or as Rice Krispie treats.

images-1 11377823_677687572376014_1983125150_n

  • Wear your favorites as a sweatshirt.




The Unicode Consortium has named six new food emojis that are being considered by the Unicode Technical Committee for inclusion in the next update scheduled for mid-2016. They are croissant, avocado, cucumber, potato, carrot, and yes, finally, bacon.



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We’ll Choose a Dirty Restaurant Over a Clean One, as Long as We Think It’s Authentic

image via The Health Inspector's  Notebook

image via The Health Inspector’s Notebook


Authenticity is the value of the moment.
Much more than a buzzword, it shapes our attitudes and our ideals. It rolls off the tongue when we speak of everything from politicians to blue jeans.
Why would we let a little thing like hygiene get in the way of the pursuit of authentic dining experiences?

Studies like Dirty, Authentic…Delicious and Conflicting Social Codes and Organizations: On How Hygiene and Authenticity Shape Consumer Evaluations of Restaurants have looked at diners’ Yelp reviews and correlated them to inspection data from local departments of public health. The findings consistently demonstrate that authenticity trumps cleanliness when consumers choose and evaluate their dining experiences.

Some diners even extoll the virtues of shaky sanitation.
When they see line cooks ankle-deep in bok choi trimmings and unrefrigerated ducks strung up by their necks they double down on the Yelp review, lavishly praising the unvarnished authenticity of the meal. In cities where health inspectors assign letter grades, it’s common to joke that ‘A’ is for ‘Americanized;’ a grade that’s only earned by restaurants that pay too much attention to superficial attributes and not enough to the food.

Let’s be clear, for a variety of reasons we are primarily talking about non-European ethnic restaurants.
First, these are the establishments that are most scrutinized for their bona fides by the self-styled urban adventurers who dominate online opinion and ratings sites. These are also the restaurants that are most challenged by differences in language and cultural norms, two significant obstacles to successful health inspections. And finally, the old clichés are borne out by statisticsimmigrant-owned ethnic restaurants, especially small and family-run businesses, fare poorly in health inspections when compared with similar businesses owned by native-born restaurateurs.

Go ahead and try that grubby little hole-in-the-wall.
And don’t worry; authenticity doesn’t correlate to food poisoning. A look at food-borne diseases by the Centers for Disease Control found that the inspection grades of restaurants with verified food poisoning outbreaks were no lower than those without.


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Hot Day Hot Drink?


It’s hot out there. How about a nice cold drink?
You hear the clink of ice cubes in a tall glass, see the beads of sweat condensing on the outside, and you just know you’re in for some serious refreshment.

So why does the rest of the world drink hot tea in hot weather?
Can a couple of billion subcontinental residents be wrong?

A hot drink tells the nerve receptors in your mouth that things are getting hot in there and it turns on a cooling response. Basically it makes you sweat, which transfers body heat into the atmosphere as the perspiration evaporates. It works with spicy foods too—the receptors in your tongue read hot peppers in the same way as they read hot tea. Either one triggers a message to the brain telling it to cool things off.

If you’re not much of a sweater, you might want to stick with cold beverages.
You need to produce a fair amount of perspiration; otherwise, a hot drink will just make you feel flushed and even hotter. It needs to really get you sweating so that the cooling effect of perspiration will exceed the heating effect of the beverage.

Hot or iced- which should you choose?
Personally, I still would like a nice iced coffee, but feel free to give a hot one a try.

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More Men Grocery Shop, Few Reports of Testicle Shrinkage

notepad from Guajolote Prints

notepad from Guajolote Prints


It’s big news to retailers: men are no longer the hapless dolts of the household.
They can finally be trusted to walk into a supermarket with a list and walk out with more than chips, bacon, and beer.

Just a few years ago stores were rolling out man aisles.
2011 was the year that men first surpassed women as the likely primary shopper of their household and retailers were scrambling for ways to broaden their man appeal. Studies were commissioned and theories were trotted out, and they latched onto the old chestnut of men as hunters and women as gatherers. Shopping was seen as a modern adaptation of our species’ ancestral skills and the theory goes that man has no interest in strolling the aisles. He’s programmed to treat the supermarket like a prehistoric hunter; he should get in and out quickly and stay in safe territory. These days instead of a gazelle one in ten men is on the hunt for a good under-eye cream to reduce puffiness, but the male ego still needs reassurance that they’re not performing ‘women’s work.’ Stores like Target, CVS, and Wal-Mart established their man aisles as safe havens within their stores where men wouldn’t have to encounter troubling lady things like Tampax and mustache bleach, or be led astray by probiotic yogurt and frilly tarragon leaves.

Gone are the days of dopey dads and ‘honey-do’ lists.
Grocery shopping is now evenly shared in most households, and among millennials it’s predominantly a male domain. And except for their resistance to coupons (most men say it makes them feel like a cheapskate), their shopping habits and patterns are nearly indistinguishable from women’s. Men and women grocery shop with the same frequency and spending differences are narrowing. They’re in a virtual lockstep when it comes to engagement and concerns for the role food plays in the household’s well-being. They choose fresh ingredients over processed the same rate, and assign similar values to local foods, nutrition quality, and branded goods.

As the stereotypes fall, so go the man aisles.
When we shop for food for ourselves and our families, we’re driven by needs that transcend gender. It’s nice to see the supermarkets finally got the memo.




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If the Water is American, Can the Beer be German?

image via East Falls House

image via East Falls House


We’ve learned through a recent class action lawsuit that Beck’s German pilsner is brewed with water from Missouri.
And it’s not the only American-made import: Foster’s tagline is “Australian for beer, ” but its water is pure Texas; Red Stripe is more Steel City than steel drums, brewing its “Jamaican-style lager” in a suburb of Pittsburgh; and Colorado’s Killian’s Irish Red hasn’t been brewed on the Emerald Isle since the 1950’s.

We’ve been misled, and it sure looks intentional.
These brands trade on their foreign roots (or in the case of Red Stripe, they’re concealing the less-than-exotic birthplace of Galena, Illinois) with foreign-accented spokespeople, kangaroos, and coats of arms. Beck’s was dinged in federal court for deceptive advertising and packaging labeled with phrases like ‘Originated in Bremen’ and ‘German Quality.’ The lawsuit asks the question: Did the beer’s maker violate consumer protection laws? But what consumers really want to know is: Can Beck’s be an authentic German pilsner when it’s brewed in St. Louis?

Water has a profound effect on the character of beer, and not just because it’s 95% of the brew.
Classic brewing cities like Antwerp, Dublin, Burton-on-Trent in England, and Pilsen in what’ s now the Czech Republic are as famous for their local waters as for the iconic beers they produce. The unique composition of each of those city’s water supplies drew early breweries and it was the water’s characteristics that helped define each city’s distinct beer style. The water profiles of the great brewing cities are still revered by today’s beer makers who endlessly analyze and compare their own local water against the standards of the classics.

When it comes to local brewing, nothing is more local than water.
And in our globalized economy, it’s most likely the only local ingredient that’s used. The hops might be from New Zealand, the barley from Canada, and the brewer’s yeast is probably imported from Croatia. The alkilinity, hardness, and mineral composition of the native water is the one ingredient that can give a sense of terroir. Its makeup will impact every ingredient and every brewing stage, defining the ph of the all-important mash, adding ions that flavor the beer, and even determining the color of the beer.

Can Beck’s be an authentic German pilsner when it’s brewed in St. Louis?
If you don’t think so, you can join the class action. Refunds of up to $50 will be offered, and no, they don’t expect you to have saved your beer receipts. A final approval hearing for the settlement is scheduled for October 20th.


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They Say the Highest Altitude Produces the Best Donuts



There’s a legendary donut shop that sits at three miles above sea level.
You could argue that the donuts taste better because of the spectacular views or the effort it takes to get to the top of a Colorado mountain, but those who’ve tried them swear that they really are outstanding. And the science of high altitude baking makes a case that the donuts served at the summit of Pike’s Peak could very well be the world’s best.

We low-landers never think about air pressure, but if you’ve ever baked a cake or brownies from a boxed mix you’ve seen the high altitude directions. As soon as you get to about 3,500 feet, baked goods require a lot of tinkering with baking times and temperatures, leavening and liquids. There’s less oxygen and the air pressure is lower, and ingredients don’t behave as they do at sea level. Liquids evaporate quickly and gases expand more. Boiling speeds up, baking slows down, and yeast and baking powder rise like crazy.

Pike’s Peak can claim the highest elevation deep fryer in the country.
The conditions at the 14,115 ft. summit of Pike’s Peak are so extreme that liquids boil at a balmy 91°; it literally takes hours to cook an egg. The donut ingredients have been adapted and adjusted so much that the recipe is truly unlike any other, and the low-temperature boiling oil makes for an unheard of long and slow deep frying.

The Pike’s Peak Summit House has been serving high altitude donuts to tourists since 1916. Not only have they perfected the technique, but they maintain that the recipe can’t be replicated at any other altitude. And as light and crisp as the donuts are on the mountain, visitors confirm that the reversed air conditions transform the pastry to disastrous effect when they’re transported to lower elevations. The donuts are not only unique, they are site specific.


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Compliments of the House? Teaspoons, Napkins, Sweet’N Low Packets: These are not on the takeout menu.

restaurant retribution via Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry Sanders endures restaurant retribution via Curb Your Enthusiasm


Diners are notorious for pilferage.
They waltz out the door with silverware, glassware, and salt shakers stuffed into pockets and handbags. They load up on bottles of hot sauce, straws, and thick stacks of paper napkins. Artwork disappears from walls and flowers from from tables. Restrooms have their own subculture of thievery with patrons treating it like a Costco run, stocking up on toilet paper and cleaning products.
If it’s not nailed down…and sometimes even when it is.

This not about need. You’ll find sticky-fingered diners in every class and category of restaurant. Sizzler gives up a lot of steak knives but so does Peter Luger. Particularly exalted locales are often especially targeted. The Stockholm hotel that hosts the Nobel Prize winners’ banquet replaces silver teaspoons by the hundreds after every awards ceremony, and the restaurant at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria runs a no-questions-asked amnesty program for larcenous guests with troubled consciences. But troubled consciences are rare; whether it’s a handful of condiment packets or a logoed coffee mug stashed in a coat pocket, most pilferers tell themselves that it’s practically a victimless crime.

Restaurant thieves have a knack for rationalizations.
They shift responsibility to the restaurant: ‘If they didn’t want me to have it they wouldn’t have put it out’; or ‘They want the PR.’ They’ll call it a ‘memento of a special occasion’ or justify the theft because ‘it has my initials on it.‘ There are brazen ‘collectors’ who display stolen treasures in gilt frames and china cabinets, and serial scroungers who boast that they haven’t bought their own coffee creamer in years.

Who among us doesn’t grab a few extra Starbucks napkins for the glove compartment? Or a handful of mints from the bowl? What about those teeny, tiny Tabasco bottles you sometimes see? Aren’t they perfect when you bring lunch from home? Whether it’s a handful of condiment packets or a logoed coffee mug stashed in a coat pocket, the perpetrator is convinced that the moral stakes are low; it’s not like you’re stealing an old lady’s handbag. Restaurant thievery has been called a crime of the moral majority, committed by otherwise upstanding citizens.

Neon signs, plumbing fixtures, taxidermied animals, novelty urinal mats: read about the most epic, outrageous, and audacious acts of restaurant thievery in Eater’s ongoing series Shit People Steal.




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Virtual Reality? How About Virtual Lasagne?

Virtual Reality can create a world without calories or food intolerances. 
Diabetics can eat donuts, dieters can indulge in fried chicken, Jews can eat bacon, and every child can have peanut butter—and it’s all sugarless, low calorie, kosher, and allergen-free.

Virtual Reality is not pie in the sky. 
VR devices are already a reality with Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Gear VR headsets, and major tech players are gearing up with strategic partnerships and billion dollar acquisitions. While food scientists work out the fine points of virtual taste and texture, developers are bringing VR food applications to market.

The Russian Tea Room via YouVisit

The Russian Tea Room via YouVisit Restaurants


YouVisit Restaurants offers VR tours of an impressive list of New York City restaurants. It’s more 3-D tour than fully immersive experience, but the application is free and they’ve signed up hundreds of restaurants including iconic locations like The Russian Tea Room, Tavern on the Green, Delmonico’s, and Le Cirque.




CyberCook Taster calls itself “the next evolutionary step in cooking media.” It’s designed to “tackle the disconnect” between what we read and watch and what we actually cook. The app combines a hyper-realistic kitchen simulation with hands-on, interactive elements.

laboratory pie, Project Nourished

laboratory pie, Project Nourished


virtual reality pie, Project Nourished



Virtual Reality meets molecular gastronomy at Project Nourished, developed by the West Coast think tank Kokiri LabThe project utilizes sensory inputs through a VR headset, external food detection and motion sensors, and aromatic diffusers. The physical food is crafted mostly from algae, seaweed, fruits, vegetables, and seeds bulked up with hydrocolloid polymers and gums, while the simulated dining experience transforms the substances into a savory and sumptuous meal. The plate says ‘vegan, lo-cal, gluten-free’ while the brain is duped into perceiving steak and cheesecake.

Tastes are relatively easy to recreate. Textures are much trickier. The lab-created meals are essentially jello-like substances enhanced with salt, sweeteners, and flavor compounds. Early simulations have focused on foods like steak, lasagna, and fruit pies—all foods with large, regular surfaces and simple geometry—that are easiest to mimic and work well with the sensors.

the digital interface of taste over internet protocol

Taste I/P: the digital interface of taste over internet protocol


The ‘Taste I/P’ approach to Virtual Reality removes physical food from the equation. 
It borrows from the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) methodology that’s used for the delivery of voice communications over IP networks. Instead of voice messages, Taste Over I/P formulates XML-based taste messages that can travel within existing communications frameworks.

It’s earned the nickname ‘the digital lollipop’ because the transmitter communicates with tiny electrodes that are placed on the tongue. The electrodes receive electrical currents that stimulate the tongue’s heat, sensation, and taste receptors tricking the brain into perceiving flavors. The technology could make it possible to send a taste of cake with a Facebook birthday greeting, or for a television chef to share real time tastes with a viewing audience.

Virtual Reality has a long way to go before it’s the truly immersive, ultra-sensory media experience demanded by food applications.
But the early signs point to its enormous potential, both culinary and clinical, and these early glimpses whet the appetite.

Posted in diversions, gadgets, media, Science/Technology | Leave a comment

When Life Gives You Lemons… The Snow Edition



via ReBloggy


You’ve shoveled, plowed, and salted it, but there’s still plenty of snow on the ground.
49 states began this month with snow cover, and in some places a new foot and more has fallen since (yes, Hawaii, I’m talking about you). As picturesque and pleasing as holiday snow can be, the honeymoon is over for most of us in January; by March we just want it gone.

Maybe the problem isn’t the snow. Maybe it’s us.
It’s possible that the snow hasn’t overstayed its welcome; perhaps we’ve just run out of imagination in dealing with it. Instead of thinking of snow as an inconvenience or a nuisance, maybe we should treat it like just another backyard surplus, like an overgrown rosemary bush or too many zucchinis in the garden. In which case, it’s time to rifle through the old recipe box and see what we can come up with.

Food.com has a recipe for Snow Cake that calls for 2 cups of freshly fallen snow to be folded into a batter of sugar, shortening flour, and milk.

The Massachusetts Maple Producers Association offers Sugar on Snow, a kind of maple candy made by pouring heated syrup over packed snow. It forms glassy sheets of chewy taffy that they claim pairs best with sour pickles.

Paula Deen recommends Snow Ice Cream, an easy three ingredient mix of vanilla, sweetened condensed milk, and snow.

Traditional farmhouse cooks swear by Snow Pancakes, claiming that new snow makes  for an exceptionally light and fluffy version.

Wherever there’s snow, you can bet that someone’s making a sno-cone: Hawaii has shaved ice, Filipinos have the halo-halo, in Guatemala it’s called granizada, and in Taiwan it’s the bao bing.

Falling snow is as pure as most drinking water, and usually cleaner than rainwater, which picks up more pollutants and particulates as it makes its way from cloud to ground. Certain dangerous algae can exist in snow at extremely high altitudes, but most snow is perfectly safe to eat and if it’s cooked in a recipe, that should take care of most micro-organisms.


Posted in cook + dine, diversions, recipes | Leave a comment

California’s Inmate Population is Housed Less Humanely than its Chickens.

via Getty Images

via Getty Images


Since January 1 of this year, California’s Proposition 2 has required all eggs sold in the state to come from chickens that live in more spacious quarters.
Any producer, whether in-state or out-, that wants to sell eggs in California has to raise its laying hens in enclosures large enough to allow the birds to freely stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their limbs and wings.

California consumes more eggs than any other state.
It’s a large producer but still imports more out-of-state eggs than any other state, so the Prop 2 regulations effectively created a new national standard. Six of the big midwestern egg-producing states tried to invalidate the new rules and charged California with restraint of interstate trade. At this point most of the lawsuits and appeals have been dismissed, and producers are either conforming to the standards or selling their eggs elsewhere. In the meantime, the attention drawn to the issue has prompted some major egg buyers like Burger King and Starbucks to go beyond the requirements by vowing to switch to eggs from completely uncaged hens.

It’s more than a little hypocritical.
Chickens and inmates are both key to the California’s egg production, with prisoners processing around 35 million eggs a year from inmate-raised hens. Like its chickens, the state’s inmates live in confinement that can be inconsistent with acceptable standards of health and welfare. While we applaud the passage of Proposition 2 for improving housing standards for chickens, it also serves to highlight the inadequate and even inhumane housing of prisoners.

It was no small task for California to reimagine henhouses.
It involved input from architects and engineers, environmental scientists, climatologists, agronomists, and poultry specialists. They ran simulations and field trials evaluating chicken behavior, psychology, and physiology, ultimately increasing the minimum amount of space per chicken by 73%.

Clearly, laying hens have the full attention of regulators. Less so for the prisoners who tend to the chickens.
Their right to humane treatment is constitutionally protected, but relying on the old chestnut of cruel and unusual leaves a lot of wiggle room for pretty deplorable conditions. Currently, a prison cell can truly be smaller, relative to an inmate’s size, than a laying hen’s cage, relative to a chicken’s size.

You might be wondering why inmates are raising chickens in the first place.
Forget about license plates; prison labor has been used to make everything from IKEA furniture to Victoria’s Secret lingerie, and is especially welcomed in agriculture and food processing, including upscale and artisan food production. Inmates have packed bags of Starbucks coffee beans, and grown chardonnay grapes for award-winning wine bottlers. They’ve produced raw milk goat cheeses for high-end cheese shops, and raised the tilapia sold at Whole Foods Markets.

Correctional institutions and their corporate partners are fond of these arrangements. Depending on the circuit in which an inmate is incarcerated, the worker may or may not be subject to protection under the Civil Rights Act, and businesses can pay pennies on the dollar of prevailing wages. Whether you believe, as the courts do, that this is part of the penalty that criminals pay for their offenses against society, or you see this as codified exploitation and discrimination by an unjust prison system, the irony of inmates liberating their post-Prop 2 chickens is undeniable.

Litigation, advocacy, and public education worked wonders for California’s chickens.
Let’s see what they can do for another group of the state’s confined residents.


Posted in agriculture, food policy, workplace | Leave a comment

Wall Street Goes for a Ride on a $100 Million Grilled Cheese Truck

Grilled Cheese Truck 003


In January, The Grilled Cheese Truck, Inc. became the world’s first publicly traded food truck business (ticker symbol: GRLD).
Its early valuation of $108 million is based on 18 million shares that started trading at around $6. For less than the price of a Plain and Simple Melt off the lunch truck’s menu, you can now own a piece of the company.

By all accounts The Grilled Cheese Truck makes a pretty darned good grilled cheese sandwich, and who doesn’t love grilled cheese? But before you put your lunch money into a brokerage account, let’s do a little reality check on what it means to have a $100 million valuation in something called ‘the mobile gourmet grilled cheese space.’

The company owns four licensed catering trucks, a whole lot of cheese, and not much else. In the SEC documents filed ahead of the public offering, GRLD claimed assets worth $1 million while owing nearly $3 million against them. If those were my trucks, I’d be looking out for the repo man. Their track record in sandwich slinging is even more dismal. The financial statements they filed showed that their best stretch was the third quarter of 2014 when the company lost more than $900,000 on sales of $1 million. For the first nine months of the fiscal year, GRLD reported a total loss of $4.4 million on $2.6 million in sales.

Once you get past the woeful fundamentals, GRLD still isn’t looking so hot.
None of its sandwiches showed up last April (a.k.a. National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month) when Women’s Day paid tribute to the 10 greatest grilled cheese sandwiches. Nor were they cited by Zagat on its list of 30 Awesome Grilled Cheese Sandwiches around the U.S. The Grilled Cheese Truck didn’t even make the cut when Mobile Cuisine named the 2014 Grilled Cheese Food Truck Of The Year and its four runners up.

Before you plunk down cash for shares, you might want to talk to some Cereality franchisees, or more accurately, former franchisees. Every one of their businesses has failed. Like grilled cheese sandwich trucks, the cold cereal cafés were based on a single, universally loved dish that most people already prepare at home. A decade ago more than 6,000 potential investors lined up for the opportunity to buy into a franchise concept that USA Today described as “so absurdly simple, self-indulgent… well, how can it fail?” Well, it did, after each owner had ponied up franchise fees and startup costs ranging between $145,650 and $461,300. Cereality is currently in retrenchment mode, down to just two company-owned outlets; one an airport kiosk and the other located inside a hospital cafeteria.

When it comes to grilled cheese sandwiches, I’d pass on Wall Street and stick to lunch. But if you really want a wild ride, Cereality is still looking for a few new franchisees.

Posted in food business, sandwiches | Leave a comment

Domaine versus Domain Name: This is why the new .wine websites are bad for wine

image via Hypographia

image via Hypographia


Dot Wine is coming.
The internet has gotten too big to be contained by .com, .net, .org, and .gov, so the organization in charge of internet addresses is pushing a major expansion in domain name suffixes. For years we’ve been making do with just 22 suffixes, plus a few dozen country-specific ones like .uk and .fr for Britain and France, but now the floodgates have been thrown open and everyone can choose from thousands of new keyword suffixes like .coffee, .vote, .football, and .wine.

The next step for the new suffixes, known as top-level domains (TLDs), is that internet name registries will bid for them at auction. The winning registries then own the rights to issue URLs with those TLDs. This has winemakers in an uproar.

Up till now, TLDs have basically come in two flavors.
There are open TLDs like .com and .net that anyone can register, and there are restricted TLDs like .gov and .edu that are limited to governmental and educational entities. Under the new plan, brands can apply to own their own limited domain suffixes so we’ll start to see TLDs like .pepsi and .nike, but the vast majority, including .wine, .vin, .napa, and .chardonnay will be open. The problem for winemakers is that the language speaks volumes.

The wine industry is very particular when it comes to names.
There are varietal names, vineyard names, winery estate names, and geographical appellations, and each describes a very specific combination of grape varieties and winemaking practices, topography, climate, soil, traditional methods, and sourcing of ingredients. In some European countries, these names are based on classification systems that date back many centuries—France’s goes back to 1411—and even the relatively new and evolving standards for America’s wine regions are considered critical to the industry’s integrity, quality, and reputation.

That’s why winemakers on both sides of the Atlantic are fighting the new TLDs.
They fear that the new domain names will open the door to misrepresentation. Think of how true Champagne has continued to exist in a world of lesser sparkling wines. Everything about Champagne from pruning to vineyard yields to the degree of pressing to release dates has been codified in its name, and that name has been legally protected for hundreds of years, extending into more than 70 countries and reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. But the new TLDs allow anyone and everyone to register a .champagne URL. It essentially gives cyber permission for the makers of any old rotgut- fizzy or otherwise- the imprimatur of centuries of history, terroir, and reputation.

Old World (and some New) winemakers want protection for their geographic indications.
They argue that names like ‘Napa Valley,’ ‘Champagne’, and ‘Bordeaux’ should be treated in the same way as trademarks. Third parties aren’t allowed to buy up the TLDs for ‘Olympics’ or ‘Tylenol’ or ‘Sony’, but as it stands, anyone with the auction fee can saunter in and claim ‘Côtes du Rhône’ as their own.

The right side of the dot is pitting nation against nation and ancient traditionalists against new world rivals.
Most European winemakers are pushing for protection, most Australians and Canadians want a free-for-all, and there’s a split decision from the U.S. wine industry. Critics of protection like to trivialize the argument as tedious squabbles over all the silly circumflexes and and hyphens in old chateaux names. They like to point out that nobody will ever confuse a .vin Chardonnay with a .vin Chevy just because the French wine suffix can double as an acronym for vehicle identification number. They assert that geographic indications are not settled international law and that proponents should take up the fight in venues like the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Cyber-squatters are already lining up to buy the most illustrious and treasured of the appellations.
These are disinterested third parties who simply smell money in the domain name dustup and are looking to lock up ownership of wine-related TLDs. And who knows what happens then. The squatters can sit tight and charge extortionary usage fees; they can ‘flip’ ownership at a vastly inflated price to legitimate wine industry constituents; or they can dismantle a centuries-old institution, selling the related URLs to anyone and everyone with a case of plonk and a GoDaddy account.

What’s in a domaine name?
History, terroir, reputation, quality.
What’s not in a domain name?
Transparency, accountability, oversight, legal protection, global international agreement.

Learn about the new domains from the issuing agency: the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers.

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, cyberculture, food business | 1 Comment

The Terroir of the Shopping Mall Food Court


Alaskan food court favorite Hot Dog on a Stick


Mall dining is much more than a shopper’s pit stop.

There’s an uninspired sameness to mall stores.
Close your eyes and you could be in any mall, anywhere, with the same overstuffed department stores at each end and the predictable mix of national retailers and ear-piercing kiosks. But if you’re looking for a sense of place, you just need to head to the food court. In between the ubiquitous soggy pizza and cinnamon buns you’ll find surprising expressions of regional preferences, and even, dare we say it—terroir.

Terroir, which is usually used to describe wines, is that ineffable sense of place that comes from the sum of the effects of a local environment. It takes in geography and geology, climate and heritage, class and culture. Instead of Mosel Riesling and Loire Valley Muscadet, shopping mall terroir is embodied in regional affinities for grilled subs, bubble tea, and cheese steaks

Terroir is where you find it.
While many restaurant chains are named for localities, they can be surprisingly popular outside of their namesake regions. Boston Market and Uno Chicago Grill are both more beloved in Mid-Atlantic states than in hometown malls, while Moe’s Southwest Grill and Ted’s Montana Grill are Southeast favorites. The Great Lakes embrace Texas Roadhouse in greater numbers than native Texans, while Jersey Mike’s Subs are all but shunned in the Garden State but have become a favorite on the West Coast. California Pizza Kitchen and South Philly Steak & Fries both are true to their names, and everyone everywhere loves A&W All-American Food.

Cupcake and donut bakeries are disproportionately represented in New England malls. Mid-Atlantic shoppers take more bagel and bubble tea breaks than anyone else, and in the Great Lakes they like to sit down with a bowl of soup. Southwesterners like to nosh while they shop with gelato and roasted nuts. They line up for buffets in the Plain States, and a single mall in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania is home to five separate Auntie Anne’s soft pretzel outlets.

Mall food courts are so much more than Cinnabon and Sbarro. See what you’re missing with Thrillist’s coverage of lesser-known delicacies: REGIONAL FAST-FOOD CHAINS THAT NEED TO BE EVERYWHERE, IMMEDIATELY.



Posted in fast food, local foods, travel | Leave a comment

Eating Your Way to a Good Night’s Sleep



Forget that glass of warm milk at bedtime.
It might feel as cozy as a tuck-in from Mom, but it’s doing more harm than good when it comes to falling asleep.

The right foods before bed can contribute to restful sleep. Sleep-friendly foods are rich in tryptophan, the notorious nap-inducer found in Thanksgiving’s turkey dinner. The wrong foods have amino acids that keep the tryptophan from crossing into the brain where it’s converted into the sedatives serotonin and melatonin.
A glass of warm milk is one of those wrong foods.

Ideally you’ll start a good sleep diet hours before bedtime. 
The best begins as soon as you wake up in the morning when a little protein in your breakfast kickstarts your blood sugar levels, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Regular meals throughout the day, each including some more protein, keep things on an even keel and have you reaching less often for afternoon pick-me-ups like coffee and candy, which can have lingering stimulative effects up to 12 hours later.

When nighttime rolls around, a well-chosen bedtime snack can help you get a restful, restorative night’s sleep. According to the sleep specialists at the Mayo Clinic, you want to avoid garlicky, spicy, fatty foods before bed. Here are the three most highly recommended bedtime snacks:

  • Popcorn, preferably air-popped, washed down with cherry juice
  • Oatmeal with sliced banana and just a splash of nonfat milk
  • Low- or nonfat yogurt with a sprinkle of almonds or sesame seeds

The meal of your dreams:
Monastrell Restaurante in southern Spain serves a special “sleep menu” that is purported to cure insomnia. The chef claims knowledge of a secret ingredient prized during the Roman empire for its soporific qualities. Courses include grilled octopus, pumpkin lasagne, turbot with lemon calamari, lemon sponge cake, and olive oil sorbet.

Posted in diet, Health | Leave a comment

Why, oh why do companies give the public access to unmoderated, real-time Twitter feeds?

Oops, they did it again. This time it’s Coca-Cola.
The company has pulled its #MakeItHappy brand campaign after it was used to tweet excerpts from Hitler’s Mein Kampf into sweetly innocuous cartoon images of kitty cats and happy hamburgers.

The #MakeItHappy campaign launched with an ad during the Super Bowl. 
Designed to combat the bullying and negative language found on social media, the beverage giant asked Twitter users to forward negative messages tagged with the #MakeItHappy hashtag. An automated algorithm would transform the words into cutesy ASCII cartoons and @CocaCola would retweet the images to its millions of followers with the message We turned the hate you found into something happy.

Coca-Cola, with its 100,ooo+ employees, seems to have launched it unmanned into cyberspace.
Nobody at the company noticed when the famous ‘Fourteen Words’ slogan of white supremacist movements was turned into a happy little puppy that tweeted out “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.”j8hqjk6ljn2sprtonorr  It was, however, noticed by the media pranksters at Gawker who created the Twitter handle @MeinCoke and fed a line-by-line reading of Hitler’s manifesto into the #MakeIt Happy algorithm, and then watched Coca-Cola’s official twitter account as it rendered Hitler’s words into smiling bananas and sunglass-wearing palm trees.

This is hardly the first Twitter campaign gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories with the idea of getting people talking about their experiences with the fast food giant. The company started the conversation with a few innocuous tweets: Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day and When u make something w/pride, people can taste it. As hoped, people shared their #McDStories by the thousands. There were stories about diabetes and diarrhea, a video posted of a mouse working its way through a bag of hamburger buns, and a heated back-and-forth with PETA over the inhumane use of mechanically-separated chickens. Apparently some McDStories are better left untold.

Wendy’s had a similar experience with a Twitter campaign built around its 25-year old TV commercial with the little old lady crying out “Where’s the Beef? When the chain promoted its hashtag #HerestheBeef, plenty of users responded with their pornographic versions of Here it is!

Even Starbucks, a company that parlayed its usually spot-on social engagement to become the best loved online brand, has had its own stumble in cyberspace. The coffee seller created the seasonal hashtag #SpreadTheCheer and invited its customers in the United Kingdom to tweet out holiday greetings with a direct feed to a giant screen at London’s Natural History museum. Before it could be shut down, the unmonitored, uncensored tweeter feed was flooded with profanity-laced sentiments blasting Starbucks as economy-busting tax dodgers who push overpriced milky coffee drowned in sugar syrup.

Missteps like these are not limited to the food world.
Screen_Shot_2014-11-13_at_9.51.33_PMThe New England Patriots celebrated reaching 1 million Twitter followers by thanking fans with custom digital jerseys—basically a photo of the back of a Patriots uniform with a Twitter handle where the player’s name usually appears. Patriots fans gleefully retweeted the automated images of irreverent and unsavory Twitter screen names until one fan’s hateful, obscenely racist Twitter handle finally shut it all down.

While the Patriots’ stunt was naïve and a bit misguided, what’s Bill Cosby’s excuse? The comedian’s website recently posted a link to a photo meme-generator and the message: Go ahead, meme me! Twitter followers were in no mood for poking fun at Jell-O pudding commercial or his penchant for wearing loud sweaters, and #CosbyMeme was quickly populated by darkly humorous evocations of Cosby’s decades of rape allegations. Who didn’t see that coming?

Twitter can be a powerful tool for brands to interact with their customers, but it also puts power in the hands of the public where it can all too easily backfire. Disgruntled customers and bystanders can shape or even hijack a promotional campaign to disastrous results. When a brand like Coke loses control of its own product’s narrative, things can go downhill in a hurry as the tweets are shared with their millions of Twitter followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….



Posted in cyberculture, fast food, social media | 1 Comment
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