The $1,000 Coffee Break

image via Visual Photos

Work perks.
Staffing firm Accounting Principals, which has just published its Workonomix Survey of workplace spending, found that 50 percent of the American workforce has a $20 weekly coffee habit, spending $1000 a year on workday coffee. Most consider it money well-spent.
Younger workers (ages 18-34) spend almost twice as much on coffee during the workweek as their older colleagues ages 45+: $24.74 vs. $14.15; men outspend women: $25.70 vs. $15.00.

The coffee break is a vaunted worker tradition. Legend has it that the world’s first coffee break took place around 1000 A.D. in Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia. Long before the power and pleasure of the coffee plant had been discovered, a goatherd noticed his goats dancing around after eating its red berries. Following the goats’ lead, herders began indulging in the berries to stay awake during the long, boring stretches of watching the herds.

The coffee break first appeared in the U.S. in Stoughton, Wisconsin (home to the Stoughton Coffee Break Festival held every August) when the wives of 19th century Norwegian immigrants agreed to cover their husbands’ work shifts on the condition that they be allowed morning and afternoon breaks to go home to tend to household chores and brew up coffee. It was formalized as a workplace ritual in 1902 at the Barcolo Manufacturing Company of Buffalo, NY (rather appropriately, the manufacturer of Barcalounger recliners). In 1964 the coffee break was etched into U.S. labor history when negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the big three automakers nearly broke down over the practice. Other issues at those historic negotiations included health insurance, retirement benefits, and a 5% raise, but it was the coffee break that nearly brought about a strike. 74,000 workers at Chrysler came within an hour of walking off the job when the company relented and agreed to a 12 minute daily coffee break.

Did you know…
the espresso machine was invented in 1901 by an Italian factory owner as a way of speeding up his employees’ coffee breaks?  The first espresso machine, the Tipo Gigante, used a combination of steam and boiling water forced through coffee grounds to make a cup of coffee quicker than any other method in use.

The Coffee Break App for Mac can be set to remind you when it’s break time. It darkens your computer screen for the duration, lighting up again when break time’s over.

 

 

 

 

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The GOP Candidates: You Are What You Eat

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Undisciplined, unpredictable, and unapologetically falling to temptation— that’s Newt Gringrich. He knows he should watch his waistline, but sometimes he just can’t help himself when it comes to ice cream.

Rick Santorum loves his beer, resolutely but conditionally. He has judged the stouts, the bocks, the white ales and the wheat beers to be worthy; IPAs don’t pass muster.

Ron Paul eccentrically puts it all out there with a family cookbook. The recipes are unfettered by contemporary dietary concerns and restrictions: pork tenderloin is sauced with an entire block of cream cheese; another block is the binding for a little something called Oreo Truffles; and the book makes liberal use of Velveeta, pudding mixes, and bottled dressings. Salt and additives, good fats and bad; it’s not his place to infringe on your personal liberties.

And Mitt Romney’s favorite food? Ever the political chameleon, that seems to depend on who’s doing the asking. He has previously cited chocolate milk, pretzels, peanut M&Ms, hot dogs, meatloaf, and Cocoa Puffs cereal. He often attempts a common touch, tweeting about a chicken sandwich at Carls Jr. and declaring a pulled pork burrito is “better than filet mignon,” but unlike the everyman he hopes to evoke, he removes the crispy skin from his fried chicken and pulls the cheese off the top of pizza slices.

   Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.
                                   (Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste)

 

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Supermarket Waste: Where Does the Old Food Go?

image via Scary Mommy

The out-of-date yogurt cartons, the dented cans, the misshapen potatoes that shoppers passed over.
There’s a lot of activity behind the scenes and after hours at your local supermarket. Employees strip the shelves of brown bananas, opened boxes, broken jars, and stale muffins. They take the past-peak quality produce and meats to the deli or the salad bar and recycle them into prepared foods. They also remove packaged foods approaching their expiration dates—still perfectly good, but who’s going to buy a 5-pound block of cheese with 3 days left?

The good news is that more food than ever is finding a second life.

Wholesalers and supermarket chains have set up reclamation centers that operate as clearing houses for products considered unsaleable by the stores. The centers are filled with Christmas cookies in January, Valentine’s chocolate in March, and a year-round assortment of products that are nearing their sell-by dates or have packaging that has since been updated by the manufacturer. Much of it is shipped off to dollar stores and discount grocers, two categories that have become important to the food chain in our current economic state. There you’ll find an ever-changing assortment of foods—items discontinued by manufacturers, unfamiliar regional brands, foods labelled for export, and plenty of familiar and even high-end products all offered at highly discounted prices.

Food banks are another outlet for unsaleables, and most supermarket chains and reclamation centers participate in some sort of hunger relief program. The passage of the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act encourages participation by protecting the stores and distributors from criminal or civil liability around issues of food safety. The FDA also enthusiastically supports the practice and has even emphasized that other than baby food and formula, most food expiration dates refer to the point when a product’s taste, texture, color, or nutritional benefits start to deteriorate rather than the point when you need to worry about the product’s safety.

Americans waste a lot of food—more than 40% of  all we produce. According to the The Natural Resources Defense Council if we wasted just 5 percent less food, it would be enough to feed 4 million Americans; 20 percent less waste would feed 25 million. This is indefensible at a time when both food prices and the number of Americans without enough to eat continue to rise.

On his Wasted Food website, Joanathan Bloom has a lot to say about food waste and what we can do about it.

AlterNet grades the food waste handling of Wal-Mart, Safeway, and other top grocery chains.

 

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How Food Influences Dreams

image via the film 'Sleeping and Dreaming of Food'

You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!

– Scrooge to Marley’s ghost; from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Was it something I ate?
Anyone who has ever gone to bed after a dinner of enchiladas can tell you that what you eat affects your dreams. Surprisingly, there is very little solid science to explain it.

Spicy foods in particular are notorious for inspiring especially vivid dreams.
Some in the medical community have theorized that the heat from the spices elevates body temperature enough to interfere with the quality of sleep. The discomfort then works its way into your subconscious, and is reflected in the narrative it creates. Real life stomach aches and other types of gastric distress can end up as dream-pain experienced by your dream-self.

Another theory suggests that what you eat before bedtime isn’t as important as how much you eat and when you eat it. Any digestion increases the metabolism and brain activity, so the more you eat and the closer it is to bedtime, the more vivid the dreams.

Sweet dreams: Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is another culprit. When your body’s blood sugar level is low, which happens when you haven’t eaten in a long while before bedtime, your brain gives you a little spurt of adrenaline that causes your body to drop some stored glucose into the bloodstream. If you’ve ever had a dream that wasn’t just vivid but also felt especially frantic, you know the feeling of adrenalized dreaming.

If you’ve ever dreamed you were sitting in a restaurant only to wake up and find your partner cooking up some bacon, you already know that food smells can creep into your dreams. The sense of smell is associated with the part of the brain that is associated with emotions, so food smells can take on a literal meaning and also affect the mood of your sleeping-self. One study (unpublished but presented to the American Academy of Otolarygology) pumped different scents into the nostrils of sleeping subjects, and found that dream moods and impressions were clearly colored by the smells, although dream content seemed unchanged.

Gaming your own dreams
We know that food affects dreams, but no one has figured out how to use it to manipulate the content of dreams, Inception-style. The best we can do is choose foods and time our meals to get the best night’s sleep possible. Web MD has a slide show of foods that help and foods that harm your sleep.

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The Yin and the Yang of Twitter Hashtags

cursing twitter via ClaudiaChez

Fast food restaurants are working the Twitter hashtags.
For the non-twitterers out there, hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a hash (#) symbol. They’re used to organize tweets into a topic or dialogue, and make them searchable. The hottest hashtags appear as trending topics on the right side of Twitter’s homepage, the most coveted spot in the twitterverse, seen by millions of users. This happens organically when a newsworthy event dominates the conversation, like #JapanEarthquake or #JustinBieberHaircut, but last year Twitter started selling spots on the list. About $120,000 buys a promoted trend, and everyone from Al Jazeera (#ArabSpring) to Starbucks (#Starbucks) has sponsored a hashtag and promoted it as a trending topic.

Fast food restaurants are drawn to Twitter.
It’s an inexpensive and immediate way to create a buzz and promote a menu special. It builds customer engagement and loyalty. At its best Twitter creates powerful word-of-mouth messaging; at its worst, well, it also creates powerful word-of-mouth messaging.

Twitter campaigns gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories last week 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! and another segment responded with less bawdy but equally graphic imagery of cruelly penned, industrially-raised livestock. Come on Wendy’s, #HeresTheBeef, on a Meatless Monday, no less? Some might say you got what was coming to you.

Hardly isolated incidents, we’ve seen plenty of fast food twittering gone awry. There have been some obvious missteps: Subway, not exactly known for its down-home cookin’ was derided for its hashtag #SUBWAYAllStarBBQ; and Taco Bell was justifiably slammed for its utterly offensive tweet on Martin Luther King Day asking Have you ever dreamed of eating @Taco Bell and then woke up and made that dream come true?

It’s an axiom of marketing that customers share bad experiences far more often than they praise the good ones- consumer research has shown that bad:good ratio to be 5 to 1. When a customer shares online, you can multiply those numbers by their Twitter followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….
Between their own tweeted gaffes and hashtags that are hijacked by disgruntled customers, companies are powerless to control their promotional narratives.
Maybe fast food restaurants should just lay off the Twitter hashtags.

 

 

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Girly Beer

image via Philly.TheDrinkNation

Pink is for girls, y’know.
That’s why the beer industry is using it to sell beer to women. After years of disenfranching and objectifying women, it’s time for a little condescension.
Ladies, cue the squeals of delight and air kisses because this one’s for you.

Molson Coors Animée: the bloat-resistant beer

Mhttp://www.beer-pages.com/stories/news/images/animee.jpgolson Coors is pre-tty pleased with themselves for this one. Bloat resistance is just one of its charms. According to the company’s press office, Animée is “lightly sparkling and finely filtered with a delicious, fresh taste [and an] unexpectedly sophisticated appearance.” That translates from PR flack-speak as fruity flavors and pastel hues. Instead of 6-packs, Animée is sold in lighter, daintier 4-packs. Animée was launched in the U.K. in late 2011 with a big bucks promotion, and we can hardly wait for its appearance on our shores cause, you know, we hate to bloat too.

Heineken’s Jillz: “Fresh and exciting. Just like you.” Uh huh.

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Heineken’s entry, also thoughtfully sold in 4-packs, is Jillz (with a Z; the original name of Charli with an I was withdrawn when the company realized that is a nickname for cocaine) a sweet beer and apple cider hybrid that would never be confused with either of the two beverages. Type your name into the online Jillz Datemaker and a buff and shirtless bartender will personally invite you to ‘Come bite my apple.’

 

Is that really beer? I mistook it for a hip stylish purse.

 

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Finally a beer that matches your slingback sandals. The Chick Beer website explains: “The bottle is designed to reflect the beautiful shape of a woman in a little black dress. The six-pack looks like you are carrying your beer in a hip stylish purse. Chick’s unique reflective bottle blings you up! It’s fun, fabulous, and female!”

 

 

…and the lady in the bold Pucci print will have a Carlsberg.

 

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http://i.huffpost.com/gen/280219/thumbs/s-CARLSBERG-COPENHAGEN-BEER-large300.jpgIn the beginning, there was Eve.
Introduced in 2006, Eve’s Press Kit asks that its girly flavors (litchee, passionfruit) be served in girly glasses (flutes) at suitably girly occasions (“where women meet and socialize in company with their best friends.”) But what about those situations when you want a real beer in a real bottle and darn it, none of them look good with your outfit? It happens to women all the time, according to  Carlsberg’s International Innovation Director: “There may be situations where they are standing in a bar and want their drinks to match their style. In this case, they may well reject a beer if the design does not appeal to them.” Thank goodness Carlsberg’s new Copen♥hagen (the heart is silent) is on the scene to rescue us with its tasteful, go-with-everything bottle.

 

Is anyone surprised by the missteps?
Beer marketing has a long and shameful testosterone-drench history. The industry has always flogged its products with sexist, dude-centric imagery like sports figures, cowboys, rappers, farm animals, physical labor, and above all frat-boy humor. These clumsy, condescending, pink and fizzy attempts to appeal to women are about what we expected.

Half the market is still waiting for their beer.

 

 

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Should We Eat Roadkill?

Guinea Fowl image via My Retirement Chronicles

Waste not?
It’s a question being asked by a growing number of environmentalists, animal ethicists, and economists.
Leave it to rot or take it home for dinner?

According to PETA, roadkill is a better choice than the factory-farmed, shrink-wrapped product you find in the supermarket. The group recommends it from a health standpoint, because it doesn’t contain antibiotics, hormones, and growth stimulants. And it’s the more humane option because the animals haven’t been castrated, dehorned, debeaked, or suffered through any of the other horrors of intensive animal agriculture.

Perhaps you prefer the term flat meat.
Roadkill is fresh, organic, and free. It was clearly free-ranging, as some unlucky driver knows all too well. It’s sustainable and supportable through an enlightened political ideology, and there’s plenty of it—according to estimates by Animal People News, the annual roadkill toll tops 100 million animals, and that’s not even counting the species categorized ever so delicately as indiscernible.

The legality of taking home roadkill varies by state.
Alaska considers it state property but residents can get on a waiting list for a moose, caribou, or bear; Illinois says the driver gets first dibs, though the privilege is only extended to state residents; Texas had to outlaw roadkill because of too many not-quite accidents; and in Tennessee, on the day that the legislature legalized the taking of roadkill, the state senator who had introduced the bill was presented with a bumper sticker: Cat—The Other White Meat.

Tastes just like chicken.
Steve Rinella, who collided with and then stewed up a raccoon for an episode of his now surprisingly defunct Travel Channel show The Wild Within says that “[roadkilled] meat is actually much fresher than what you might find in a grocery store.” The wiki How to Eat Roadkill recommends that you “learn the signs of healthy roadkill”: it should be freshly killed, preferably from an accident you witness, although you get some slack time in the winter months; you want a fresh stench, since the impact can force excrement rapidly through the animal’s digestive tract; and fleas are a good sign, maggots are not. And not to worry about rabies—sure, it’s a deadly communicable virus that infects the central nervous system, but the wiki tells us that it dies off quickly with the animal.

Should we eat roadkill? In theory, it’s an excellent exercise in ethics, environmentalism, and self-reliance.
Just in case, you can order PETA’s Free Vegetarian/Vegan Starter Kit right here.

 

 

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The Coolest Kitchen from the International Consumer Electronics Show

Jetsons via Hanna-Barbera

The toasters really did tweet at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.
The ovens downloaded recipes, the refrigerators were on Facebook, and the dishwashers chatted with the washing machines about the hot water.
The kitchen of the future is here, and can be summed up in one word: connected.
You talk to your appliances, they communicate with each other and the outside world.

The LG ThinQ refrigerator has a smart food monitor that texts you updates when you run out of groceries. It recognizes each family member through voice-recognition software and suggests dishes appropriate to each diet. The refrigerator can cue the ThinQ oven to the appropriate cooking time and temperature, and the oven will text you when it’s preheated and completed the cooking cycle.

The app-enabled Samsung refrigerator tracks the expiration dates of groceries and will soon be upgraded with an e-commerce app that will allow you to shop for food straight from a screen on the front of the fridge. For now, the LCD monitor can be used to stream TV and Facebook or download recipes.

You can ring up the internet-connected Jura-Capresso coffeemaker from your smartphone to start brewing before you even get out of bed. It stores individual preferences for coffee strength, water amount, temperature, and milk-frothing steam.

There are features to appeal to the tech-geek inside us, but the real smartness of the appliances fits into the broader conversation around the connected home and overall home management. Connected appliances can minimize down-time and waste by running their own performance diagnostics, and they can connect to the manufacturer for repairs and upgrades. They can tap into signals from power companies and use the data to adapt their cycles to optimize energy usage and shift their energy consumption to off-peak times.

Smarten up your old appliances.
There are devices out there that let you create your own connected home without replacing your old appliances.

The Wifi-connected Twine is loaded with temperature, pressure, moisture, current, RFID, and motion sensors. It knows when the refrigerator door is opened and closed, when the ice maker is jammed, and when your oven thermostat needs recalibration; and it can report on status via emails and tweets.

Remember the Clapper? Belkin’s WeMo is the 21st century version of ‘clap on, clap off.’ You plug in any appliance that has an on-off switch and control or schedule its operations via smartphone or tablet computer.

The connected home is not exactly the futuristic utopia of The Jetsons, where a hungry Jane pushes a few buttons on the food-a-rac-a-cycle and there’s dinner for four. But we’re getting closer.

 

 

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Subway is Bigger than McDonald’s, But is it Better?

image via NMA.TV

Subway has given McDonald’s a good thumping.
About a year ago Subway surpassed the long time leader in restaurant count, and McDonald’s has been choking on Subway’s dust ever since with a mere 33,000+ locations to Subway’s nearly 36,000.

Subway owes much of its success to its image as a healthy alternative to the traditional fast food meal of burger and fries. The chain gets a lot of traction from its ‘Eat Fresh’ slogan, and especially from an innovative ad campaign promoting a weight loss angle through spokesman Jared Fogle who reportedly lost 245 pounds by exercising and eating only Subway sandwiches. The company now has a lucrative hold on the minds of fast food eaters as the virtuous option.

According to the marketing researchers at Decision Analyst, more Subway customers than any other quick-serve restaurant patrons (42%, versus a low of 3% for Taco Bell) choose the restaurant because of its selection of healthy offerings. Subway also rates highest in consumer trust; in fact it’s the only one of these restaurant with more people who ‘completely trust’ their nutritional claims than ’do not trust’ them (again, Taco Bell is in the cellar with just 7.5% of consumers putting faith in their claims).

Subway says its better, and we believe it’s better, but is it really?

The truth is, you can eat a low-cal, low-fat meal at either chain, albeit one loaded with hormones, pesticides, preservatives, and sodium. Both chains offer their share of options, though McDonald’s selection of snack-sized wraps and salads feels meager and skimpy next to Subway’s assortment of meal-sized 300 calorie subs. But Subway more than holds its fat-laden own when it comes to core menu items. The chain’s top-seller is the B.M.T., short for Biggest, Meatiest, Tastiest; the 6 inch version, at 450 calories, is on par with McDonald’s Big ‘N Tasty, and the best-selling meatball marinara sub, also in the small size, tops the Big Mac by an (un)healthy margin. Opt for a 12 incher- even chicken or tuna- and you can be eating a thousand-calorie sandwich. Get it on Subway’s honey oat roll and the bread alone snags you more than 500 calories.

Researchers have also found something they call a ‘health halo’ associated with a Subway meal. Consumers are so familiar with Subway’s claims as the healthier choice that they will underestimate the calories they are actually consuming. The misperception that they are being ‘good’ influences them to be ‘bad’ with other food choices: studies have shown Subway diners to be more inclined to justify an order of chips or dessert, and one study’s participants ended up consuming 56% more calories than those eating at McDonald’s.

Basically, eating at any fast food restaurant is like jumping out of a window. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the 30th floor or the 40th; the net effect to your health will be pretty much the same.

 

 

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Snooping in Other People’s Pantries

Almedahls vintage pantry tea towel

It’s been said that the eyes are the window to the soul.
Nonsense. The true window to the soul is the pantry.

Every pantry tells a story.

Pantries are as individual as fingerprints. They reflect history and aspirations, politics and pocketbooks. They are links to the past and road maps to our dreams. They are the show we put on for guests and they can harbor our deepest secrets.

Pantries can be treasure troves of exotica or wastelands of deprivation. They can speak of careful planning or organized chaos. They can remind us that we are overscheduled or underpaid. And sometimes they just scream Take out the recycling!

Pantries are the place where dreams meet reality.

The online world is ripe with opportunities for a culinary peeping Tom. The best of these is a photo series, now in its fith year, called Other People’s Pantries.

Hosted on the blog The Perfect Pantry, each week a different guest blogger showcases their own pantry in photographs and text. We have peered inside of converted broom closets in tiny urban kitchens, hand-hewn shelving in log cabins, and lavishly outfitted pantry extravaganzas in grandiose homes. We have been to kitchens in nearly every state and about a dozen countries. Can by can, spice by spice, each pantry tells the story of a cook, a home, a life.

If you’re game, Other People’s Pantries is currently soliciting submissions for new pantries to feature.

Want to snoop some more?

Diane Sawyer prefers Miracle Whip to mayonnaise. Bobby Flay like to mix hot sauce into his Greek yogurt. Rachel Ray bakes with cake mixes. Celebrity  secrets are revealed in Stock Your Pantry Like the Stars.

A dieting wife and mother; a restaurant critic; a 20-something ethical vegetarian; a newly-divorced middle-aged man; the Montreal Gazette dissects the shopping and eating habits of this eclectic group of home cooks in its series Shop, Cook, Eat, Drink.

What Your Groceries Say About You looks at the secret language of grocery purchases, from Jimmy Dean’s dough-wrapped frozen sausages (“I will eat anything on a stick,”) to canned Reddi Whip (“There’s an 87% chance I’m using this for sex.”)

 

 

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Pizza-nomics: Pegging a Subway Ride to the Price of a Slice

$2.50 doesn’t go very far in New York City.
Two things it will buy: a slice of pizza and a ride on the subway.
Through a strange and delicate interplay of markets in New York, the cost of a subway ride has always run parallel to the price of a slice of pizza.

The economic axiom known as the New York Pizza Connection or Pizza Principle was advanced in the early 1980’s. The uncanny parallel was first noticed when the cost of a single ride was being raised to $2.00, the same as the then-prevailing price of a single slice. A look back showed that this economic law had held with remarkable precision since 1964, when both items ran for 15 cents. Price increases have moved in lockstep ever since.

The decades since the discovery have brought plenty of change to transportation and street food. State transit subsidies and deficits have come and gone for the New York City subway system. Pizza parlors have battled invading food trucks and the low-carb craze of the Atkins diet. Yet somehow, all the capital costs, union contracts, and passenger miles add up to flour, tomato sauce and mozzarella.

On the surface, the relationship might seem arbitrary—aren’t pizza and subway rides comparison-defyingly disparate? To a New Yorker, there’s nothing haphazard or esoteric about the connection. The city’s subway system and its pizza are both essential institutions that touch nearly all of New York’s citizens.

 

 

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Jell-O Returns

Did you feel that?
It’s the Jell-O groundswell, and I’ll bet you’re sensing it too.

Jell-O is primed for a comeback. It’s a most modest indulgence, inexpensive and fat-free. It has a nostalgic earnestness, evoking memories of tonsillectomies and Mom’s bridge club, but it can also play the irony card as an amusingly kitschy party dish, all retro-cool atop a Mid Century Modern chrome and glass table. Plus, it wiggles.

Jell-O comes with its own mythology.
Prototypically American, for years Jell-O was the official welcoming dish served to immigrants as they passed through Ellis Island. It’s been found to have numerous medical applications, as a testing medium for pancreatitis, mimicking brain waves for an EEG, and as an experimental cancer therapy; and by day 3 of the stomach flu, it’s just about the only food you can handle.

Jell-O has even been touched by scandal. In the 1951 espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the case hinged on a meeting between two communist spies. One spy had stolen atomic secrets from the military compound at Los Alamos, and the other was to deliver the secrets into the hands of the Russians. The prosecution alleged that Julius Rosenberg had arranged for a meeting between the pair of spies by tearing a Jell-O box in two and giving a piece separately to each. The theory went that when the spies met up to pass along the stolen secrets, they would  be able to confirm the other’s identity by fitting the Jell-O box together. The torn Jell-O box shown in court was seen as a damning piece of physical evidence that led to the Rosenbergs’ controversial convictions and executions. That Jell-O box is now held in the Public Vaults of the National Archives.

A distinguished past and a bright future.
Our infatuation with all things DIY helped kickstart the Jell-O comeback.
The unique properties of Jell-O make it a magnet for tinkerers. Play with the ratios and it can be a liquid, a solid, or something in between. You can use it as finger paint or hair dye; as a powder it will deodorize the cat’s litter box, and as a paste it’s a household cleanser.

In its gelled form, Jell-O is edible entertainment. Its color and opacity are endlessly variable. It molds into any shape and suspended objects can be layered in, making it a favorite of both holiday hostesses and office pranksters who are endlessly amused by gelatin-encased staplers.

Jell-O is an enduring symbol of American ingenuity. It’s also a remnant of the unpretentious traditions of American cookery. It reminds us that there was a time in the not-so-distant past when a wiggly, jiggly, gaudy mass was the height of sophisticated dining.

Liz Hickock is an internationally exhibited sculptor and photographer who is currently working in the medium of Jell-O. Best known for her gelatin renderings of urban landscapes, she has transformed the San Francisco skyline, the Arizona desert, and the city of Wilmington into fragile, shimmering mosaics.

In upstate Le Roy, New York, birthplace of Jell-O, the Jell-O Brick Road leads to the Jell-O Gallery. General Foods moved the factory out of state years ago, but the museum still hauls in busloads of tourists drawn to artifacts and exhibits like the evolution of Jell-O packaging and a Jell-O-themed Barbie doll; and a gift shop that carries boxer shorts bearing the Jell-O tagline: Watch it wiggle, see it jiggle.

The motto of My Jello Americans is ‘in order to form a more perfect union of gelatin and alcohol.’ In other words, they blog about jello shots. But that simplification belies the artistry of their creations: intricate, elegant sculptural objets wrought in boozy Jell-O.

 

Posted in dessert, diversions, food trends | Tagged | 1 Comment

Apple to Apples: Technology vs. Fruit

apple apples01 Apples Apples... Talk About Geek Fruit picture

[Japanese ‘Geek Apple’ image via Weird Asia News]

Comparing a multinational corporation to the fruit of the apple tree is like, well, apples and oranges, but that’s exactly what the business resource MBA Online has done. Their latest infographic is a daffy but surprisingly edifying matchup of the technology giant and its namesake fruit.

Apple, Inc. and apples are more alike than you’d think: they are both wildly popular in the western U.S.; China is the leading producer of both; and of course there are Macintoshes (computers) and McIntoshes (fruit).

Here’s how they stack up:

Apple to ApplesHow do you like them apples?

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Why We Drool

image via Abracadebra

Pavlov’s drooling dog has nothing on us.
Each of us pumps out a liter or two of the stuff daily. Food photography, TV cooking shows, even the mere reading of menu descriptions can get us dribbling. A typical year’s worth of saliva could fill your bathtub a few times over.

Saliva is much more than water. It’s teeming with hormones, proteins, and enzymes that heal wounds, keep our teeth from rotting, and help to control the hordes of unhealthy microbes that find their way into our mouths. It’s essential to our sense of taste, helps us to swallow, and makes food digestible.

Drooling also plays a role in weight loss. It’s part of the body’s automatic appetite response. We salivate at the sight, sound, and especially smell of tempting foods and that causes the body to produce insulin, the hormone that encourages our bodies to store fat and triggers hunger signals from the brain and intestines. Basically, drooling is related to the factors that undermine our resolve to eat healthfully—really, who’s drooling over celery sticks?

Successful dieters seem to be able to rewire the appetite response. Research has shown that people who struggle with their weight drool more than individuals who’ve succeeded on diets. It seems that if a dieter can consistently and repeatedly resist temptations, over time their saliva response will decrease. Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows that the toughest part of any diet is just getting started; the drool data tell us that it gets easier if a dieter can push through the early days and reprogram their appetite responses.

It’s not just about food.
Are you drooling over the new iPhone? That’s not just a figure of speech; we really do salivate for material goods. The results from two recent studies published in The Journal of Consumer Research reported increased saliva flow in subjects shown photographs of shiny new sports cars, cashmere sweaters, and piles of money. By contrast, they got dry-mouthed from images of office supplies.

This is all sounding very Pavlovian. Instead of a dog and a bell, we’re drooling reflexively over everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to paper bills with pictures of dead presidents. But we are not simple stimulus-response machines. We are infinitely more complex with active internal lives and the capacity to ignore, resist, choose, and change. We’re not immune to conditioning, but we are free to chart a different course.

Now that we know why we drool, we can use the knowledge to rise above it.

 

 

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The Porkapalooza Roadshow is Coming to Your Town

Pignal via Cochon 555

The traveling pig fest rolls on in 2012.
Now in its fourth year, the high-profile touring porcine bacchanalia known as Cochon 555 will travel the country looking for this year’s King or Queen of Pork.

555: 5 chefs, 5 pigs, 5 wines
Cochon 555 holds culinary competitions in 10 cities—NY, SF, Napa, Portland, and the rest of the usual foodie suspects. At each stop, five prominent local chefs are paired with five whole heritage breed pigs and matched with five wines. They’re given a week to prepare a whole hog feast that’s judged by attendees at a public tasting. The 10 regional winners face off in a grand finale when the tour wraps up at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic.

The chefs dream up menus utilizing every bit from snout to tail: all manner of charcuterie; pork belly slabs and tenderloin slices; liver-stuffed dumplings and heart-stuffed ravioli; salads of lardo topped with lardons; ribs and chops galore. You’ll drink pork fat digestifs with bacon swizzle sticks, and dessert might bring a piggy popsicle or sweet and crunchy pig ears.

Brady Lowe, Cochon 555’s founder, thought up the pork Olympics as an entertaining way to educate consumers about heritage breeds and the sources of a more natural, sustainable food system. It pits chef against chef, but also breed against breed: the rich marbling of a Berkshire pig against the bacon-friendly Tamworth, the lardy Ass Black Limousin against the beefy Red Wattle; each with its own deeply distinctive flavor and fat distribution. Breed loyalties and passions run so high that a food fight broke out in the aftermath of the Portland round, complete with tasers, contusions, and chef mug shots, when a local hog was slighted.

You can expect plenty of fireworks, culinary amd otherwise, when the tour kicks off in New York later this month.

Cochon 555’s 2012 Schedule 22:
· New York, January 22
· Napa, January 29
· Memphis, February 4
· Portland, March 11
· Boston, March 25
· Miami, April 1
· Washington DC, April 22
· Chicago, April 29
· Los Angeles, May 6
· San Francisco, May 20
·The Grand Cochon, Aspen, June 17

Tickets will be available on the Cochon 555 website.

 

 

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The Cheeseburger Footprint: Can you be green and eat fast food?

Nike shoeburger via LOL Gallery

Can you be green and eat fast food? Some fast food chains are better than others, when it comes to their environmental impact, but is a cheeseburger always going to be ethically challenged? We know about the carbon footprint of the greenhouse gases produced through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation—the normal activities of our day-to-day lives. What about our cheeseburger footprint?

Each year, the green-living website Greenopia rates the environmental impact and healthy dining characteristics of popular fast food chains. The rankings are based on factors like sustainable building design, integrity of the supply chain, and participation in recycling and composting programs. We learn that McDonald’s is greener than Burger King, and Subway is doing a better job than Taco Bell. Good to know, yes, but this still doesn’t answer the question, Can you be green and eat fast food?

Can fast food ever be green?
Fast food chains generate tremendous amounts of waste. Recycled or not, no other dining format can touch its levels. And once you peel back the wrappers and packaging, you have the food miles and greenhouse gases, and the salt, fat, and high-fructose corn syrup of factory farmed, heavily processed foods.

Fast food will ultimately hit the wall when it tries to go green.
We, the customers, are hooked on fast, cheap, and convenient. The fast food giants can improve their use and disposal of packaging materials. They have the clout to push food producers toward more sustainable options that are organic, fairly traded, and additive-free. But the high volume, low cost model will always dictate the terms and impose its own limitations. Processed travels better than fresh, fruit-flavored is cheaper than fruit, and a Big Mac is still going to cost less than a salad. Getting it ‘to go’ will always mean wasteful packaging, and cars will continue to idle in drive-through lanes.

Let’s go back to the original question: Can you be green and eat fast food?
There are plenty of anti-waste crusaders and Slow Food advocates who would answer with an emphatic, unequivocal ‘no;’ that even the greenest of fast food options run counter to their missions, producing more waste and carbon emissions than home cooking served on real dishes. But isn’t that like telling the owner of a Prius that hybrids are pointless, or even counterproductive, because they still burn fossil fuels?

While it’s true that a bicycle is a greener, more ethical option than any car, it obviously doesn’t work for everyone and in all circumstances. As an alternative, a hybrid car is a laudable, pragmatic solution, and even a catalyst for change—the presence of each one on our roads helps promote a worthy message in the public sphere.

Unfortunately, most of us won’t be giving up our quick, inexpensive meals eaten on the fly any more than we will quit driving. So when we opt for fast food, we need to patronize those chains that are making a true effort to minimize their impact on the environment, the ones given a 3- or 4-leaf rating by Greenopia’s fast food ratings.

Choosing to eat even the most ethical, sustainable fast food is an imperfect option in the same way that a Prius is an imperfect vehicle, and the self-righteous among us might challenge the ‘greenness’ of the choice. But it represents distinct, incremental progress and creates public awareness that just might be the catalyst for further change on our way to a greener future.

Just how bad is fast food’s impact on the environment? It’s all broken down for you in the Cheeseburger Footprint.

 

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Prohibited Pleasures

Did you find any contraband in your Christmas stocking?

Between the Department of Agriculture, The Food and Drug Administration, and the  Customs and Treasury departments, there’s a slew of delicacies that have been banned in various locales. But if your gift exchange is shady enough, you might have scored this holiday season.

Absinthe
Contrary to popular belief, absinthe is legal in the United States. The FDA strictly limits the level of thujone, a toxic substance found in wormwood, one of the spirit’s ingredients. Thujone has long been rumored to cause hallucinations in absinthe drinkers, although this has never been confirmed. The legal version is highly alcoholic (up to 74%) and is usually diluted before drinking.

Caviar
Since 2005, caviar connoisseurs have been forced to make do without the eggs of the wild beluga sturgeon. Until the dwindling numbers of this species can be revived, caviar lovers have to satisfy themselves with the roe of salmon, trout, and other more plentiful fish. Strictly speaking, these substitutes are not true caviar.

Sassafras
The dried root bark of the sassafras tree has been used for tea, as a fragrance for soap, a painkiller, an insect repellent, and­ a seasoning and thickener for many Creole soups and stews. It’s best known for contributing the characteristic flavor to root beer, although few can remember the taste of true sassafras root beer. A potential carcinogen, its use has been banned for 50 years.

Foie Gras
Celebrated for its luxurious taste and texture; excoriated for the cruelty of force-feeding geese and ducks to enlarge their livers before slaughter. It’s hard to stay neutral on the subject of foie gras. Chicago banned the retail sale of this delicacy in 2006, imposing fines of up to $500 per violations. Since eating foie gras remained legal, restaurateurs skirted the ban by serving the dish under the guise of other menu items, claiming that they were giving away the livers with the purchase of the other dishes. The ineffectual ban was lifted in 2008. California is gearing up to implement its own foie gras ban this year.

Raw Milk/Raw Milk Cheeses
Raw milk proponents tout the superior flavor and nutrition of milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. Government agencies worry that bacteria present in unpasteurized milk poses a health threat. Raw milk can not be legally sold in about two dozen states, and is limited to direct farm sales in a few others. A few enterprising farmers satisfy raw milk demand by selling ‘herd shares’– customers purchase a share in a cow that entitles them to a portion of its milk.

Throughout the US, unpasteurized cheeses can only be legally sold when they have been aged at least 60 days– the period deemed necessary to kill off potentially harmful bacteria in raw dairy products. True cheese connoisseurs feel that we are missing out on the distinct and extraordinary pleasures of young cheeses, such as those found in European countries where the requirement is a 30-day waiting period.

Here are some resources to help you locate and legally transport some of these forbidden foods:

Keep up with the latest legislation with the Food Law Blog.

Think twice before packing that prosciutto– failure to declare food products at border crossings can result in fines as high as $10,000. Consult the US Customs website to learn what you can lawfully transport.

Read The Devil’s Picnic: Around the World in Pursuit of Forbidden Fruit (available through Amazon.com) for a chef’s tour of prohibited pleasures.

 

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Make Plans, Not Resolutions

[image via TheResurgance.com]

New Years resolutions are a sucker’s bet.
We all know it. Even so, there’s something about the next year’s calendar with all its small, clean squares so full of potential.
Resist the urge.
Make plans, not resolutions. Lay foundations instead of boundaries.

DON’T resolve to eat out less often. INSTEAD get your house in good cooking order.
Keep a well stocked pantry, have your knives professionally sharpened, buy lots and lots of condiments, play with your forgotten utensils and appliances (have you ever used the sausage attachment that came with your food processor?).

DON’T resolve to limit your fats. INSTEAD plan to savor every bite.
Experiment with nut oils and buy different grades of olive oil— use the good stuff when it counts. Eat really fresh butter from grass-fed cows. Same for cheese. And ice cream.

DON’T give up meat. INSTEAD plan to broaden your culinary horizens.
Beans, nuts, grains, and even green vegetables contain protein. Did you know that there are 40,000 different varieties of rice? That should keep you busy for a while.

DON’T give up refined foods. INSTEAD plan to make informed decisions.
Know your food—where it’s from and what’s been done to it.

If you must make a New Years resolution, make it this one:
This year, I resolve to enjoy my relationship with food.
Make 2012 a celebration, not a challenge.

 

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Good Luck/Bad Luck Foods for the New Year

crossed-fingers

If Friday the 13th is unlucky, then 2012 should be a real doozy.
We have 3 of them coming up on next year’s calendar. That’s the greatest number that can possibly fall within 12 months.

This seems like a good time to try some of the good luck foods from New Year’s traditions around the world.

  • Beans, peas, and lentils
    They are symbolic of prosperity in many cultures because they’re thought to resemble coins when they’ve been cooked. Legumes are 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 Years 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.
  • Noodles
    Long noodles like are eaten as a symbol of a long life.
  • Round or ring-shaped foods
    These represent 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.
  • Fish
    Fish makes frequent appearances on New Years 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.
  • Grapes
    In Spain it’s traditional to eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for each month of the coming year. The taste-sweet or sour-gives a clue to the character of each of the coming months. Spanish state television broadcasts the New Years chimes and nearly 4 million pounds of grapes (in little 12 grape packets) are sold in the last week of the year.

What Not to Eat

  • Lobster
    Lobster is considered a poor choice for a new years 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.

 

 

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Small Plates: Love ‘Em or Loathe ‘Em

image via Little Red Book

Appetizers are the new entree.
Is there any bigger dining trend than small plates? It’s been gaining momentum for about a decade, but in 2011 there was a quantum leap in popularity. Restaurants everywhere are encouraging us to graze our way through dinner by putting together a shareable meal of small courses in large numbers.

Eveyone has a theory.
Some say that small plates are like snippets of meals, reflecting the MTV fast-cuts and twitter-length of our attention spans. Or that it’s driven by the economy; it’s the down marketing of our plates after the sky-high vertical towers of food we saw in the dot-com boom. It could be moderation driven by health and diet issues, or a rejection of the formality and structure of traditional dining. Or maybe plate size is just fashion, like the rise and fall of hemlines.

We love small plates.
Any dining veteran can tell you that appetizers are the best part of the meal, and the small plates format gives you a veritable smörgåsbord of appetizers. The best small plates are not just scaled-down entrées; the flavors are bigger, more intense. You can take more risks with them because the commitment—of dollars, appetite, and calories—is smaller.

A meal composed of small plates has its own rhythm. It doesn’t have to fit the traditional progression of courses so it always fits into your day. You can get the variety of a tasting menu, with less expense and formality, or have fries and dessert- just fries and dessert- and no one even raises their eyebrows.

We loathe small plates.
What was wrong with full-sized plates of properly paired food? Small plates bring a clash of flavors that never quite add up to the balance of a well-composed meal. And with per plate prices that fall somewhere between appetizers and entrees, it can quickly add up to a very uneconomical way to dine.

Sharing brings its own headaches. You tussle with the number and assortment of dishes, sidestepping allergies, aversions, and dietary restrictions. Plates bring supremely unsplittable portions like a single duck leg or 3 scallops for 4 people, and you never get more than a few precious bites, no matter how much you love a single dish.

Small plates have their place.
We don’t just eat in restaurants on special occasions like previous generations of diners. The unstructured small plates format gives us versatility, expanding and contracting to fit a range of appetites and social occasions. But we are the nation that invented super-sized meals, the unlimited salad bar, and the bottomless cup of coffee. Small plates are a refreshing alternative, but not a monumental shift in the way we eat.

 

 

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