We’re Hungry and We Want It Now

We’re fussy, we’re fickle, we’re inconsistent, and unpredictable.
We say we want healthy but opt for decadence. We chase the new but choose the familiar. We demand quality but reject premium price tags.
Somehow, restaurant operators need to parse all the contradictions and inconsistencies to give us what we really want.

Restaurant Business Online has come out with one of their periodic snapshots.    
They compiled data from numerous business intelligence sources (including Consumer Reports Magazine, Technomic, The National Restaurant Association, and Pizza.com) to capture our ever-changing dining preferences at this singular moment in time.

infographic via Restaurant Business Online

infographic via Restaurant Business Online

 

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Oh, Is It Just You This Evening?

We’re being ridiculous and we know it, but we still feel stigmatized by solo dining. Take a confident, capable, rational adult, plunk him down at a table for one, and residual memories of a middle school cafeteria come back to haunt him.
Everyone’s staring I look like a pathetic friendless loser I’m going to die a lonely virgin.

A scene from the 1984 movie The Lonely Guy dramatizes those fears. Steve Martin, the titular solo diner, requests a table for one. You can hear a pin drop as the restaurant’s service grinds to a halt. Busboys stop clearing, diners’ forks freeze in midair, and out of nowhere a theatrical spotlight bears down on the poor sap as he follows the smarmy maître d’ to his table.

It’s the middle school scar that never fades. 
Contemporary media continues to fuel the insecure with the parade of odd characters on the Tumblr table-for-1 and on Facebook’s heavy-hearted exercise in dining desolation I feel sad when I see an old person eating aloneIkea’s 2014 April Fools offering of the Löne Singleton Dining Table, a mirrored table for one, hewed so close to the stereotype it left many wondering if it was really a put-on.1

One woman who believed other diners saw her as ‘a sad, lonely spinster’ founded the dining companion search service Invite for a Bite. The website SoloDining.com is ‘dedicated to supplying you with the information and tools you need to take charge of this important life-style skill’ and advises you to purchase their $7.95 e-booklet. And then there are forever alone tables, partitioned cubicle-style cafeteria seating that are popping up on American college campuses, especially in the socially awkward milieu of engineering schools.

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In fact dining alone comes with its own distinct pleasures.
You can engage in satisfying eavesdropping and people-watching or immerse yourself completely in the sensory satisfaction of the meal. You can set your own pace, you don’t have to gauge your menu selections to others, and nobody will stick a fork in your dessert. We need to take a page from the great food writer M.F.K. Fisher who, in her iconic Gourmet Magazine essay An Alphabet for Gourmets, captures the bitter and the sweet of solitary dining with A is for Dining Alone… She suggests that ‘snug misanthropic solitude is better than hit-or-miss congeniality.’ In other words, sometimes you can be your own best dining companion.

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The National Kitchen Audit

 

image via NPD Group

image via NPD Group

 

Every three years a massive study reveals what’s in our kitchens.
In 1993, the NPD Group, a market research company, first asked American consumers to tell what’s in their pantries and on their countertops. The published reports have taken us through the era of George Forman grills and South Beach diets to coffee pods and Greek yogurt. And through it all there’s a block of cheddar cheese lurking in everyone’s refrigerator.

Here are the latest findings from the 2014 Kitchen Audit:

Pod-based coffeemakers are now found in 23% of kitchens, up from 9% just three years ago. And they’re using them regularly—80% in the past month, even though 55% of these households held on to their electric drip coffeemakers. Other dedicated appliances like rice cookers, slow cookers, juicers, and waffle makers have also found a place in more kitchens.

You’ll find soda in 54% of kitchens, and home soda makers in 4%; that rises to 10% if there are children under age 6 in the household.

Sriracha hot sauce was barely a blip in previous audits. Now it’s found in 9% of total households, and an impressive 16% of households with a cook under the age of 35. This reflects the influx of new flavors shared by Asian-Americans, the country’s fasting growing ethnic group, plus the much larger Hispanic population, which opened us up to bolder, spicier flavors.

There’s a slew of new pantry staples.
Sea salt, formerly a specialty food item, has officially crossed over into the majority of kitchens. 
Nut products are becoming a standard way of adding meatless protein to diets; hazelnut spreads like Nutella are now in 14% of kitchens (up from 8% in 2011), and nut milks, especially from almonds, reached 10% (up from just 4%).
Of course the reigning king of the high-protein meat alternatives is Greek yogurt. In three short years its market penetration more than tripled, and it can now be found in 29% of all household refrigerators.

Instant and prepared foods are losing ground.
Home cooks are using microwave ovens less frequently. Canned foods are slipping (lima beans and mushrooms dropped out of  20% and 6% of pantries, respectively), and the dry cereal manufacturers are in full panic mode. There’s still a ready-to-eat box of in around 90% of American households, but unless there are small children, we’re just not eating it like we used to.

The biggest surprise revealed in the audit is that we’re cooking.
Consumers- especially millennials- say that they want to be hands-on in the kitchen. They still like convenience (remember all those coffee pods?), but the buzzwords are fresh and customized. Think of bags of pre-washed and trimmed salad greens with homemade dressing or tacos constructed at home with a takeout rotisserie chicken. More people consider themselves good-to-excellent cooks, and 53% of that self-identified group is cooking at least some elements of a meal from scratch- with recipes even- at least once a week.

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The Power of the Cartoon

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A few simple pencil strokes from a talented cartoonist can say more in a glance than most journalists accomplish in dozens of column inches.
The terrorists responsible for yesterday’s horrific attack know this. That’s why, when the gunmen stormed the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, they named four prominent cartoonists as they recited their hit list.

Political cartoons can bite without venom.
The best practitioners are literate and to-the-point, but balance the invective with sardonic humor. Tragedy can be limned with irony, brutality with farce, and personalities lampooned with hyperbole and caricature. We laugh and then we think as the commentary hits its mark.

It’s about freedom of expression and freedom of the press. 
The massacre at Charlie Hedbo is an assault on the core elements of a free society. That’s why nous sommes tous Charlie.

Visit the Cartoonists Rights Network International where they’re leading the fight to protect the rights of political cartoonists and the people they give voice to around the globe.

Climate change deniers, politicians, flash mobs, pesticide manufacturers, and many more players and policymakers appear in the satirical graphic novel #foodcrisis. It’s set in the near future of 2025 when North America is hit by a massive collapse of its food system. You can purchase the print edition or read the first three chapters for free online.

 

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Makers and Hackers: Here’s Your Refrigerator

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The FirstBuild co-creation community debuted a really smart refrigerator at CES 2015, the giant, global consumer electronic fest that landed in Las Vegas this week.
FirstBuild‘s industrial designers, scientists, engineers, and fabricators partnered with GE Appliances to reimagine household appliances. The ChillHub is the collaboration’s first community-generated product launch.

The ChillHub refrigerator isn’t just smart; it’s hackable.
It’s got WiFi connectivity, 8 USB ports, and is compatible with a Best Buy-full of other appliances, gadgets, sensors, and control systems like Nest and OneCue. But the real draw is that it’s all open-source. The source code, circuit board, and the mobile app are free and available to anyone that wants to tinker, modify, or customize the fridge. In keeping with the open-source spirit, creators are encouraged to design 3-D printable ChillHub accessories and share the templates with other owners who can download, print, and assemble their own products.

Dozens of different accessory components are currently in various stages of production, some still in the concept phase and others that are already distributed through the FirstBuild website. There are diet trackers, bacteria-killing lights, an egg tray that hard boils your breakfast, and an in-fridge safe to keep medicine out of a child’s reach. Coffee brewers and smoothie makers are big, as are dispensers (milk, beer, soda), butter (softener, stick cap), and anything that makes bad refrigerator smells go away.

Visit FirstBuild.com to see the the ChillHub and its many user-created accessories, from the frivolous to the functional.

 

 

 

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Cannabis Cooking: the new haute cuisine

image via jantoo

image via jantoo

 

Cannabis edibles have emerged as a legitimate culinary pursuit.
Now that recreational and/or medical marijuana is legal in 23 states plus the District of Columbia, marijuana cookery is looking increasingly mainstream. No major food manufacturer or restaurant chain has jumped in yet, but hundreds of small producers are turning out a wide range of products. There are cannabis cookbooks in the works from major publishers, and cannabis cooking classes are taught by well-known and classically-trained chefs.

Chefs and marijuana go together like salt and pepper.
Many (many) restaurant workers and chefs blow off steam after a long shift in the kitchen by smoking a little dope, and naturally they’re adept at feeding their own munchies. Anthony Bourdain, who famously chronicled his own taste for drugs and debauchery, claims “There has been an entire strata of restaurants created by chefs to feed other chefs. These are restaurants created specially for the tastes of the slightly stoned, slightly drunk chef after work.”

The munchies are a well-documented phenomenon.
Generations of stoners, chemotherapy patients, and now a scientific study conducted under rigorous, double-blind controls can all confirm that ingesting weed makes you hungry. Marijuana perks up the taste and hunger receptors in your brain and body. Flavors are heightened on the tongue as happy-making mood compounds course through your body. Traditional munchies leaned toward big flavors that go down easy. You didn’t want to be fussing with little fish bones or seeds or sorting through too much tableware. Outstanding examples of the form cited by many chefs include the cereal milk soft-serve ice cream at Momofuku Milk Bar (a dessert based on the slightly sweet flavor of the milk left at the bottom of a cereal bowl) and the fleet of Kogi Korean taco trucks that circulate through Los Angeles.

In the cannabis kitchen.
Legalization has opened up culinary frontiers. Chefs aren’t just feeding the sugar-salt cravings of stoners; they’re exploring marijuana’s gastronomic potential for sophisticated palates, and they have the freedom and the ingredients to do so. Instead of grinding marijuana leaves, professional kitchens cook with cannabis extracts that reduce the psychoactive cannabinoids into a tincture that can be added to just about anything. Pastry chefs can buy CannaFlour and CannaOil, line cooks slather the flat top with cannabis-infused olive oil and compound butters, and deglaze pans with pot-infused brandy. Everything from pesto to sushi to cold-brewed coffee can be steeped in a few drops of extract.

Ganja goes gourmet.
Chefs and gastronomists are studying the art of matching food to marijuana varietals and pairing weed with wine. Restaurants (even the Michelin-starred) have constructed elaborate cannabis-imbued tasting menus, and the multi-city supper club Sinsemil.la organizes pot-themed, farm-to-table dinners that create “a carefully calibrated experience from start to finish…Sinsemil.la isn’t about getting high — it is about haute cuisine.”
It’s all a far cry from the gritty Alice B. Toklas creations of yore.

For the home cook:
The classic Stoner’s Cookbook is coming out with a new volume focusing on the haute end of high cuisine. You can help bring HERB to the masses through the project’s crowdfunding endeavor.
The indispensable tool of the cannabis kitchen is the pot crock pot, which comes to us from one of MSNBC’s top entrepreneurs of 2014The MB2e from Magical Butter is a botanical extractor that produces cannabis-infused butters, tinctures, and oils suitable for cooking. It’s available on Amazon where it can be found in the sub-category of Specialty Cookware-Butter Warmers.

 

 

 

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3 Friday the 13ths in 2015. We could all use some lucky New Year foods.

 

 

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February, March, and November—each brings us a Friday the 13th.
That’s the greatest number that can possibly fall within a calendar year.

Many New Year’s revelers will try to balance the bad juju with lucky foods.
These are foods that symbolize health, long life, prosperity, fertility, love, and forward progress. Summon your own good luck for the coming year with some of the good luck foods from New Year’s traditions around the world.

Beans, peas, and lentils
Legumes are symbolic of prosperity in many cultures because they’re thought to resemble coins when they’ve been cooked. They’re often paired with pork, which has its own lucky associations, so the combination makes for a most propitious meal. Italians eat sausages and green lentils just after midnight. Germans usually eat their New Year’s legumes in lentil or split pea soup with sausage. Hoppin’ John, a dish of black-eyed peas cooked with ham, is a tradition in the American south.

images-2Noodles
Cook your noodles carefully. Chinese traditions suggest that the longer the noodles, the longer the life. Uncut, unbroken noodles are eaten as a symbol of longevity at birthday and New Year celebrations. The Chinese new year doesn’t begin until February 19th, but some January 1 noodles can’t hurt.

 

il_340x270.682282337_rqn1Round or ring-shaped foods
The shape represents a year coming full circle. Mexicans eat the ring-shaped rosca de reyes cake, the Dutch eat the donut-like ollie bollen, and in Greece, families bake a lucky coin into the round vassilopita cake. Pomegranates are especially auspicious—a round fruit filled with round seeds.

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Fish makes frequent appearances on New Year’s tables. There’s herring at midnight in Poland, boiled cod in Denmark, and the Germans not only feast on carp, they also put fish scales in their wallets for a successful new year. In Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility, shrimp for long life, and dried sardines for a good harvest. Chinese tradition dictates that a whole fish should be served with the head and tail intact to ensure a good year, from start to finish.

Grapes
In Spain it’s traditional to eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for each month of the coming year. Are this year’s grapes sweet or sour? The taste gives a clue to the character of each of the coming months. Spanish state television broadcasts the New Year’s chimes and nearly 4 million pounds of grapes (in little 12 grape packets) are sold in the last week of the year.imagesWhat Not to Eat

  • Lobster
    Lobster is considered a poor choice for a new year’s meal because lobsters move backwards and could lead to setbacks, regrets, and dwelling on the past.
  • Chicken
    You don’t want your good luck to fly away.
  • White foods
    The Chinese avoid eggs, cheese, and tofu, because white is the color of death.

And never clean your plate. A little leftover food will usher in a year of plenty and guarantee a stocked pantry.

fingerscrossed

 

 

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Selling Like Hotcakes? It’s time for a new metaphor.

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IPads, kale chips, Bean boots, Taylor Swift’s new album: these are selling like hotcakes. Pancakes? Not so much.

Pancake sales are tough to pin down.
We visit IHOP, pull Eggos out of the freezer, add oil and water to boxed mixes, and sometimes even sift flour and crack eggs for homemade. In the industry, they look at the total picture and call it the ‘pancake experience.’ And when you add it all together, the pancake experience has been pretty flat for years.

It’s the rare household that makes pancakes from scratch. You’ll find a box of pancake mix in two-thirds of American kitchens, but it’s probably just whiling away the months until its expiration date. Annual household spending on pancake mixes is a mere $1.16, which adds up to a single new box about every three years. The frozen category is the only bright spot in home pancakes.

We still like a good restaurant pancake. We just wish that Chipotle would put them on the menu.
IHOP, with more than 1,500 locations, is the top chain in its category, but customers are increasingly abandoning the whole category. The top five traditional family dining chains (by sales) are IHOP, Denny’s, Cracker Barrel, Waffle House, and Bob Evans Restaurants. Every one of them is in the pancake business. Diners have been shifting to the new category of fast-casual restaurants where the top five brands are Panera, Chipotle, Panda Express, Jimmy John’s, and Five Guys. There’s not a pancake in sight at any of them, unless you want to count the scallion pancake-filled orange chicken wrap at Panda Express.

Don’t blame this one on the gluten police.
We flip over carb-heavy fads like ramen and cronuts, and trendy cupcakes, mac and cheese, and craft beers are still going strong, while pancakes are falling behind.
Hotcakes: these days they’re selling like sweetbreads.

 

 

 

 

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Cookbooks for the Hard-to-Shop-For

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photo courtesy of The Three Stooges Cookbook


You’re down to the last few on the holiday shopping list, and this is when it gets tough.
It’s the eccentric family member, the fussy friend, the complicated relationship. Fortunately, there’s a cookbook out there for everyone.

for that special (or not so special) someone
There’s the intimate Eating in Bed Cookbook and the series Cooking in the Nude, although the volume titled Cooking in the Nude: For Barbecue Buffs seems particularly ill-advised. Looking for less romance and more action? Try the unabashedly pragmatic Cook to Bang, subtitled The Lay Cook’s Guide to Getting Laid.

for the quirkily focused
If it’s edible, no doubt there’s a cookbook singularly devoted to it. There’s the Eat-a-bug Cookbook (33 ways to cook grasshoppers, ants, water bugs, spiders, and centipedes) and a few volumes for hardcore fans of Twinkies. The Testicle Cookbook is the English language translation of a Serbian best-seller focused on the beloved, local delicacy. The Natural Harvest cookbook is even harder to swallow. The back-of-the-jacket blurb says it all: Once you overcome any initial hesitation, you will be surprised to learn how wonderful semen is in the kitchen. Semen is an exciting ingredient that can give every dish you make an interesting twist. If you are a passionate cook and are not afraid to experiment with new ingredients – you will love this cook book!

for the celebrity watcher
There’s no dancing but they can cook with stars like Coolio, Regis Philbin, Gwyneth Paltrow, and two of the Real Housewives from the Bravo TV franchise have cookbooks. Notably, both of those have ‘skinny’ in the book title.

for the political junkie (or your strange bedfellows)
Policy wonks can choose to Dine Liberally with the Democrats, Eat Like a Republican, or go bipartisan with Politics and Pot Roast.

for those you want off of next year’s list
Try a copy of Cooking to Kill: The Poison Cook-book, or Dorothea Puente’s Cooking With a Serial KillerCharged with killing nine of her elderly boarding house residents and facing a life sentence, Puente’s recipe collection was published as proof of her innocence. Her defense attorney claimed that Puente would never have fed her boarders so lavishly if she was only going to kill them.

for everyone else
There’s a one-size-fits-all cookbook for the Christmas season billed as ‘The Ultimate Program For Eating Well, Feeling Great, And Living Longer': What Would Jesus Eat?  

 

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Read It and You’ll Never Buy a Mexican Tomato Again

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This weekend the Los Angles Times wrapped up an explosive 4-part investigative series exposing the horrific conditions at Mexican farm labor camps. Product of Mexico pulls no punches as it takes readers into the worker camps attached to industrial mega-farms that send millions of pounds of tomatoes into the United States.

The workers are recruited from Mexico’s poorest and most discriminated populations of indigenous ethnic groups living in remote regions. They’re trucked to distant farms with the promise of decent housing and a weekly salary of $48 for the duration of a 90-day contract. In fact they are housed in squalid shacks, often with no mattresses, working toilets, or running water. Some are held against their will behind barbed wire fences, and some are trapped by employers who withhold wages for the duration of the 90 days. Others are trapped by debt—to the recruiters who charge them a job placement fee, or to the on-site company store where the captive workers overpay for basics like soap and food.

Fully half of all the tomatoes consumed in the U.S. are the product of these farm camps. But don’t worry; the produce itself is coddled. Immaculate greenhouses and packing facilities adhere to the food safety standards demanded by American customers. There might not be sinks and showers at the camps, but food handlers are treated to nail trimmers and hand sanitizers so that the tomatoes will pass through unblemished.

The list of U.S. customers includes nearly every major produce distributor and restaurant chain. Retailers carrying the tomatoes run the gamut from Wal-Mart to Whole Foods, so no matter what kind of shopper you are, you’re likely eating the tomatoes. And until American consumers are willing to use their voices and purchasing power to speak out against the abuses and exploitation, you’ll continue to do so.

Here are some steps you can take on the road to systemic reform:

Visit Fair Trade USA for a list of fair trade certified products and local retailers that carry them. The Fair Trade produce label ensures that farms will meet certain requirements for the treatment of workers, and they are subject to regular inspections and audits to maintain their standing. 
Join your local Fair Trade Campaign that works with schools, hospitals, and other local institutions to broaden the availability of fairly-traded products in your community.
Read the Product of Mexico series. You’ll never buy another Mexican tomato.

 

 

 

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Holiday Weight Gain: The Unwanted, Un-returnable Gift of the Season

image via Shelton Crossfit

image via Shelton Crossfit

 

The holidays are fattening. That’s true.
We pack on the pounds. That’s a myth.

The Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper shares his 7 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain with the cast of the Today Show. WebMD gives us 10 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain. Greatist ratchets it up with 32 Science-Backed Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain.
With a steady stream of media stories like these, it should come as no surprise that we vastly overestimate how fattening the holidays are.

Tales of holiday weight gain have been greatly exaggerated.
A classic study from the New England Journal of Medicine reports that we expect to gain at least five pounds. The reality, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a typical weight gain of between 0.4 and 1.8 pounds. That’s an average gain of around one pound for the season.

Just one little holiday pound—that doesn’t sound so bad after six weeks of free-flowing eggnog.
It’s only one pound, but most people hang on to it. Weight is on an upward creep throughout most of our lives, from early adulthood to the peak of middle-age spread. We tend to accumulate about two pounds during each of those years, and half of that can be traced to holiday indulgence.

More bad news—you won’t be losing the weight at the gym.
Every January millions of Americans pat their soft little holiday bellies and vow to get fit in the new year. It’s one of the most common resolutions, and health club rosters overflow with well-intentioned new members. Gym owners are all too happy to offer January deals and promotions because they know that the overflowing yoga classes and treadmill lines will be gone before the end of the month. A full 60% of annual gym memberships go unused after the first six weeks of every new year. Our collective failure to keep our fitness resolutions is the easiest money those gym owners see all year.

We don’t fare any better with a January menu of cottage cheese and green tea. 
40% of all New Year’s resolutions relate to diet and weight loss, but women typically revert to old eating habits by January 6th, with men holding out for another week. Men are more weak-willed about cutting out alcohol, usually making it only as far as the first weekend of the new year, while women abstain for two weeks.

With a single new holiday pound every year, the needle on the scale creeps up very slowly. But once it’s there it’s not budging.

 

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Top Food Inventions of 2014

It wasn’t just cronut-inspired pastry hybrids.
2014 brought the doughssant, the doughscuit, and the crookie. You could even call the Taco Bell waffle taco a direct descendent of the trendy pastry mashups. But it’s good to know that the year’s food innovations didn’t stop there. Many addressed the pressing problems of climate change, world hunger, public health, and animal welfare.

Whether you’re a Luddite, a technophile, or something in between, here are some of the  year’s coolest, useful, and tastiest developments that came out of the overlapping spheres of food and technology.

Banana

 

A banana that prevents blindness
Young children in Sub-Saharan Africa eat a lot of bananas. They also go blind at a frightening rate—30% of kids under age 5 are at risk—due to the lack of vitamin A in their diets. Scientists have engineered a souped-up banana, enriched with alpha and beta-carotene which the body converts to Vitamin A. It could prevent 1 million cases of blindness a year.

 

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Electronic tongue
Researchers have developed a device that can scan food for additives, impurities, and even taste. It works like a human tongue with sensors that detect substances and send signals to a computer for analysis, much like the way taste buds transmit flavor messages to the brain. Ultimately it will be used to detect toxins and bacterial contamination at food inspection and processing sites. It’s already in use in Thailand where restaurants earn a Thai Delicious designation when the e-tongue verifies the tastiness of their ingredients.

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Levitating cocktails
A British inventor has come up with a levitron that lets you sip a Bloody Mary out of thin air. Soundwaves lift cocktail droplets out of a glass and suspend them in space. He’s hoping to have a floating rainbow of jelly beans by Easter.

 

 la-dd-eco-friendly-froyo-edible-packaging-20140312Edible wrappers
WikiFood (the company), is making WikiPearls (the product), out of WikiCells (the material). These are all-natural, water-tight, edible shells made from things like dried fruit, coconut, and seaweed. WikiFood casings reduce packaging waste; they provide a protect barrier against contaminants and temperature swings; and they can be enhanced for improved nutrition. They’re a natural for humanitarian food aid, but you can also buy them at Whole Foods filled with Stonyfield yogurt.

 

article-2530195-1A29DF9E00000578-358_634x4243D Printed Food
The futuristic fantasy became a reality in 2014. The Foodini is a home printer that produces pasta and burgers to cook at home, and The ChefJet prints desserts in sugar and chocolate. 3DPrintingIndustry explores the outer limits of printed edibles, like foods that can double as biomedical sensors or electrify your insides with conductive jello. Recipes and other matters of modern gastronomy are discussed at 3Digital Cooks.

The innovations will keep coming.
Food startups are attracting significant venture capital as we look for solutions to society’s ills and explore viable, sustainable alternatives to our current model of industrialized food production. Insect-based foods, customized nutrition, laboratory-grown meat analogs—these are some of the developments we’ll be seeing in 2015 and beyond.

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Nothing Says Merry Christmas Like Custom, Edible, and Anatomically Correct

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Your name on a Christmas stocking is so old school.
Custom gifts that use digital imaging and 3D printing will put a contemporary spin on personalized holiday gift-giving. 

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Choc-Edge will render your face (or Santa’s) in dark, milk, or white chocolate. Just send in a photo; custom molds start at $80.

parkerscookie

 

 

Parker’s Crazy Cookies turns your likeness into a caricature of fresh-baked goodness. The design process costs $25 for an initial proof and three revisions, and then you can order all the cookies you need for your holiday cookie swap.

gummymold

 

A 3D scanner maps you from head to toe to create a detailed silicone candy mold that renders you as a gummy mini-me .


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Fondant doppelgänger cake toppers aren’t just for June weddings. Like Butter creates plenty of custom, edible sculptures (starting at $60) in the days leading up to December 25th.

 

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Send in a photo and Chocolate Dreams will re-create it in chocolate. They’ve made a subspecialty of so-called exotic designs that they claim are ‘not for the fainthearted.’

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There Really is an ISIS Jihadi Cookbook- because even a Mujahideen marches on its stomach

image via Blazing Cat Fur

image via Blazing Cat Fur

 

ISIS is actively recruiting women to help with the domestic side of holy war. 
The jihadists are on social media outlets scouting for western women willing to travel to Syria to cook and clean for “Allah’s soldiers.” And not just any western women; they seek women who are “interested in explosive belt and suicide bombing more than a white dress or a castle or clothing or furniture.”

The self-proclaimed Islamic State established the Al Zawra women’s auxiliary group and tasked it with bringing new recruits up to speed.
It’s a jihadi-style finishing school for the women of ISIS, offering tips on snagging a warrior husband (sample tweet: “Marriage in the land of jihad: till martyrdom do us part,”), and instruction in such diverse subjects as sewing, Sharia law, weaponry, and battlefield first aid. The group has a worldwide following through its YouTube channel, Twitter feed, and Facebook account, and dozens of personal member blogs and Facebook pages spew English language propaganda (not all are reachable from U.S. computers).  

Special attention is given to cooking, with recipes for a “hungry mujahideen” released online as part of the Al Zawra Media “jihadi cookbook.”
Animated clipart cooking videos and elaborately detailed step-by-step photography accompany the recipes. Most dishes are simple foods that hit the spot during a break in the daily rampaging.

Date mush snack balls are described as “a quick recipe for a mild appetite to be eaten with coffee or with water and eaten at any time, especially during the intermission in battles. They contain significant calories, and will extend the power and strength of the Mujahedeen, God willing.” A more extended lull in the war against the infidels means it’s time for pancakes. It’s a western-style recipe (1 egg, 1 cup milk, 1 cup flour, 1 Tbsp oil, 4 tsp sugar, salt) served with honey. According to Al Zawra, pancakes fit for a terrorist should be cooked in a non-stick pan.

It’s the ordinariness that makes it surreal. 
The girls and young women of ISIS have Tumblrs and Instagram accounts like teenagers everywhere, but they gossip about husbands attaining martyrdom and share unrecognizable niqab-clad selfies. Their internet memes are less cats more suicide vests, and cooking lessons come from horrifically brutal terrorists. 
Al Zawra truly represents the banality of evil.

 

 

Posted in cyberculture, social media | Leave a comment

The Holiday Diet Detox

image via Ayay.uk

image via Ayay.uk

 

The typical Thanksgiving meal is a whopping 4,500 calories.
That’s two days’ worth of food for most of us. It’s the caloric equivalent of downing nine large orders of McDonald’s fries in a single sitting.

It’s time to think about a post-Thanksgiving detox.
Approaches vary from juice fasts to activated charcoal capsules to colon cleansing regimens, but all the Thanksgiving detoxes are aimed at flushing the November alcohol, sugar, and toxins out of your body. Do it now and you can boost your immune system and improve metabolic function just in time for the next round of holiday parties.

You name it and The Detoxinista can tell you how to excrete, secrete, or otherwise expel it from your body. She covers all the usual troublemakers like alcohol, meat, gluten, grains, nuts, and eggs, and even gives us a few new substances to worry about (nightshade, predatory fish, the auto-immune protocol).

Detox the World adds bacteria, yeast, and fungus to the list.

There are apps to guide you through a sugar detoxa raw foods regimen, or go the paleo way with a morning glass of spinach-limeade.

You can be gender-specific: the Man-Up Detox promises to boost testosterone while it cleanses; Body Detox 4 Women advises bubble baths and dark chocolate.

The Official Online Holiday Detox Kit dispenses absolution along with advice: ‘to overdo it is human. to overdo it over the holidays is almost mandatory. we’re here to help.’  You pick your poison (choose from food, family, or frolic), enter your specific overindulgence, and the online tool suggests the appropriate cure. Too much pumpkin pie—balance your diet with an artichoke; overbearing in-laws—watch the ‘Wha Happened?’ clip from A Mighty Wind; a bit too much of the holiday nog—try bed rest, a cold pack, and the Stevie Wonder station on Pandora.

With a little post-Thanksgiving cleansing and purging, you’ll be ready for the holiday excess still to come.

 

Posted in health + diet, holidays, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

Give Just 18 Minutes to Our Most Critical Food Issues

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It’s nearly Thanksgiving; the whole country already has food on the brain.
Why not take 18 minutes out of the long holiday weekend and watch a food-focussed TED Talk?

For the uninitiated, TED Talks fall under the heading of ‘Ideas Worth Spreading.’
That’s the slogan of the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conferences that spawned the speaker series. Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and U2’s Bono were among the earliest presenters, and as the talks spread into topics of food policy, food politics, hunger, and nutrition, food-minded individuals like scientists, policymakers, chefs, and activists joined the list.

TED Talks are required to clock in at under 18 minutes.
These are big thinkers presenting big and often complex ideas. The time constraint challenges them to consider form and format, resulting in narrative arcs that engage and enlighten while remaining concise. TED Talks are often snappy, savvy, and powerful, and presenters often point to theirs as the best speech of a lifetime. 
Many are so compelling that even in a post-turkey tryptophan-induced stupor you should make it to the end.

A cheat sheet to some of the best of the food-focussed TED Talks:

Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell follows the food industry’s pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce to make a larger argument about the nature of choice and happiness.

See why 11-year old Birke Beahr says, ‘Now a while back, I wanted to be an NFL football player. I decided that I’d rather be an organic farmer instead.’

New Urbanist/Architect Carolyn Steel looks at the ways in which food has historically shaped our cities, and why our current relationship with food is severing that connection.

Chef Dan Barber begins by fretting about the fish choices on his menu and ends falling in love with a fish.

Michael Pollan speaks from the plant perspective in a TED Talk that leaves us questioning Darwinism and human consciousness.

 

TED Talks are always free and can be accessed through a multitude of apps and media outlets including YouTube, iTunes, Netflix, and the TED website.
Visit TED for links to all the different ways you can watch.

 

Posted in diversions, Entertainment, food knowledge | Leave a comment

And You Thought Tofurkey was as Weird as Thanksgiving Could Get

Just when we’re recovering from the fall onslaught of pumpkin spice flavored everything, here come the Thanksgiving flavors.

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Have the saddest Thanksgiving ever with the poultry version of everyone’s favorite block of porky luncheon meat.

 

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You won’t end up with a sink full of dirty dishes when you serve Thanksgiving dinner in a cone. Seasonal flavors from Portland, Oregon’s Salt & Straw ice cream shop include sweet potato casserole, corn pudding, hazelnut rosemary stuffing, and goat cheese pumpkin pie. The entrée scoop features fried turkey skin brittle in a base of turkey fat caramel.

medium_image-54662ffb4170701480030400-coalescedYou can replicate the entire feast in potato chips. Boulder Canyon Foods has a lineup that includes cranberry, stuffing, turkey and gravy, and pumpkin pie, all in chip form.

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New York’s Zucker Bakery doesn’t stop at a little pumpkin glaze for their Thanksgiving donuts. Try sweet potato with marshmallow or spiced pumpkin filled with gravy.

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Pumpkin pie Pop-Tarts make their annual appearance. Pumpkin appears too, if only as a trace (<2%) ingredient.

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Thanksgiving beverage pairing hasn’t been the same since the Jones Soda Company discontinued its legendary holiday pack. The assortment varied from year-to-war, but think green bean casserole, buttered mashed potato, and Turkey & Gravy, all rendered in sugary carbonation. There are readily available alternatives like Pinnacle‘s pumpkin pie vodka and the sweet potato lager from Fullsteam BreweryOr you can always order up another round of pumpkin spice lattés.

 

Posted in diversions, funny, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

Are You a Music-Nerd-Slash-Foodie?

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If you’re a music-nerd/foodie, it’s your golden age.
Restaurants are adding music directors who create musical pairings for the night’s list of menu specials, and British Airways now partners inflight meals with its Sound Bites music matching menu. There are pop ups like Covers, a kind of tribute band for the restaurant world, serving the signature dishes of well-known chefs, each paired with a cover version of a well known song. The bands and food booths are both headliners at festivals like San Francisco’s Outside Lands, Charleston’s Southern Ground, South Africa’s Delicious, and Maryland’s Sweet Life.

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We all know that a good meal is about more than just the plate of food in front of you. It’s also about the pleasure you take in the people you’re with, the buzz in the room, the atmosphere, and the ambiance. Music adds another sensory component, and the right music will complement the meal and elevate the whole dining experience.

Create your own soundtracks with these resources:

Supper is like a cookbook with mood music.
It’s a website and a Spotify app that combines recipes with enough harmonious tracks to carry you from cooking through dining. Well-known chefs, restaurateurs, and musicians collaborate on the selections like shrimp with tomato fricasee paired with Massive Attack and John Coltrane, and black rice-stuffed baby squash accompanied by Solange, Leonard Cohen, and Scissor Sisters. Are playlists becoming the new wine list?

The Recipe Project sings for its supper. 
It’s a book, a CD, an app, and a video, with contributions from top chefs, food writers, and musicians. It’s smart, with interviews and essays exploring the relationship between food and music. And it’s silly, with sing-along recipes set word-for-word to music. There’s a heavy metal octopus salad with black-eyed peas from Michael Symon, Chris Cosentino’s Beastie Boys-esque offal and eggs, and the classic rock of Tom Colicchio’s creamless creamed corn. Bonus tracks: David Chang shares a playlist he calls ‘Songs to Lose Customers by’.

Turntable Kitchen calls their service ‘a curated food and music discovery experience.’
A subscription to their Pairings Boxes brings monthly shipments, each with recipes, spices and other ingredients used in the recipes, a digital mixtape of new music, and a limited-edition vinyl album pressed by their own record label.

Mood magazine is a food and music quarterly organized around the notion that ‘not many things can beat a good record and a delicious meal.’
A recent relocation from Brussels to New York has served to beef up the US-focussed content, while still gathering stories from around the globe. The latest issue looks at Brooklyn’s fried chicken scene, visits a South African café owned by a local indie rock star, and travels to food and music festivals in Norway and Illinois.

The creator behind Musical Pairing has devised a mathematical system that’s supposed to identify the perfect song for every dish.
The system assigns a numerical value to a meal based on ingredients, flavor profile, and cooking method. It also looks at music, assigning a value based on instrumentation, tempo, beat, and genre. The supposition is that when the Food Pairing Number (FPN) is equal to the Musical Pairing Number (MPN), you’ve got your match.

 

Posted in Entertainment, food trends, restaurants | Leave a comment

Detroit, Michigan: The New Back Forty

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There aren’t enough jobs, enough people, or enough tax revenue, but one thing Detroit has plenty of is vacant land.
The city is barely standing after decades of a free-falling economy, fruitless renewal efforts, and a local government that was feckless at best and more often corrupt. Two-thirds of Detroit’s residents streamed toward the exits, leaving 40 square miles of abandoned buildings and empty lots—a space equal to the entire city of Boston—that arson, bulldozers, and nature are transforming into a massive urban prairie.

Most people look to Detroit and see a ruined space prowled by looters and packs of wild dogs; some see a field of dreams.
Visionary citizens and a progressive administration are rehabbing and reshaping the city. To them it’s not blight but unplanned green space, and a prime test case for large-scale urban farming. Detroit has become the nation’s hub for advocates of urban agriculture and the shrinking cities movement that reimagines distressed, post-industrial cities as smaller metro cores surrounded by green belts of food production.

In April 2013, Detroit passed a comprehensive urban agriculture ordinance that changed the way the city is zoned.
Urban zones traditionally fall into one of five major categories: residential, mixed residential-commercial, commercial, industrial, and special zones (school, hospital, airport, etc.). Zoning establishes dedicated land uses; the local government can regulate the activity but it also offers legal protections. Detroit’s ordinance established agriculture as an urban planning priority. It gave formal legal status to an array of land uses including community gardens, rainwater catches, and aquaculture, and permits even small, backyard gardeners to sell homegrown produce from their own farm stands.

The ordinance has been embraced by a public and private cross-section of the city.
Citizen groups like Be Black and Green and My Jewish Detroit have helped to establish the nearly 2,000 gardens flourishing in the city’s ethnic enclaves. More than 1,000 citizens volunteered at a spring planting day launching Hantz Farm, the world’s largest urban farm. The school district has converted one of the city’s many abandoned public schools into 27 acres of gardens to provide produce to its school cafeterias. Even the automakers have joined in with projects like the Cadillac Urban Gardens which has recycled and repurposed hundreds of steel shipping crates into raised-bed planters.

Detroit’s food activists are aiming for a food sovereign city.
That’s a lofty goal of 51% or more of the fresh foods consumed in Detroit to be grown by Detroiters within the city limits. It’s especially gutsy when you consider that just a few years ago Detroit was the poster child for urban food deserts, with fully half of its residents living without reasonable access to fresh groceries. Empty lot by empty lot, the city is transitioning there.

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Posted in community, local foods | Leave a comment

A Device that Distills Coca-Cola into Clean Drinking Water

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The Real Thing is a Dutch art installation that challenges us to think about priorities within our consumerist culture.
The multidisciplinary artist Helmut Smits sought to make a statement about “a world in which drinking water can be harder to come by than Coca-Cola.” With input from the Synthetic Organic Chemistry group of the University of Amsterdam, he created a reverse osmosis filtration system that turns a bottle of Coke into a purified bottle of clean water.

Coca-Cola is everywhere.
The company likes to brag that it operates in more countries than the United Nations (200 to the UN’s 192). Coca-Cola’s network of bottlers is the world’s largest and most widespread production and distribution system. It’s estimated that 95% of the world’s population can identify an unlabeled Coke bottle just by its iconic (and patented) contoured shape.

Coca-Cola’s reach extends to even the dustiest little towns in the most remote regions of every continent. The residents might not have access to potable water, but they have Coke. They have Coke in drought-stricken regions of India, even though the production of a liter bottle of Coca-Cola can use up to nine liters of clean drinking water. They have Coke in impoverished regions of Africa, where Coca-Cola is the beverage of choice because it’s priced below the cost of clean water.

Coca-Cola has been trying to spruce up its image, championing various sustainability and community-building initiatives.
Critics see the effort as window dressing; a fleeting social commitment of convenience while billions continue to flow to advertising in developing countries.
The Real Thing installation reminds us that residents of the world’s poorest nations need a lot of things, but they don’t need a Coke.

 

 

Posted in diversions, food business | Leave a comment
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