cook + dine

Cafés Go From Free WiFi to WiFi-free

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Coffee and conversation. What a concept.
Cafés were among the first to flip the switch on free wifi. Now some pioneering coffeehouses are pulling the plug.

Blame the coffee shop squatters.
For the price of a small coffee they monopolize a café table for hours on end. They commandeer electrical outlets with multiple chargers and tangled trails of power cords, connect to the free WiFi, and settle in for the workday. Why not? The bathrooms are clean, the downloads are fast, and somebody left behind today’s newspaper with an empty crossword puzzle. They can nurse the cool dregs of a single cup of coffee for the better part of a day.

What once lured customers has become a drain on the bottom line.
The squatters monopolize precious seating space, too often crowding out paying customers. With fewer free tables, turnover rates and food tabs are lower as customers who might linger over a sandwich or a pastry choose to just grab a quick cup of coffee.

The impact is cultural as well as economic.
Customers are put off by the office-like atmosphere with its silent sea of laptop screens and the occasional one-sided cell phone business call. The squatters will look up from their keyboards to glare with open hostility at small children, and have been known to shush energetic conversationalists.

Cafés have struggled to strike a balance.
Some change their network passwords every few hours giving access only with a fresh purchase. Others cover electrical outlets, shut down routers during peak business hours, or shrink the size of café tables to tiny cups-only pedestals. Extreme measures were taken at one Vancouver pop-up that created its own electromagnetic dead zone by wrapping the café in a giant metal cage that channeled a signal-blocking static electrical field. Most coffee shop owners are just wondering when Sony will start selling its newly-developed electrical outlets that can limit access with time-sensitive user authentication.

What’s fair and reasonable? According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, 32% of Americans think that a person who has purchased coffee should be able to use the shop’s free wifi for as long as they want. 38% think that 30 to 60 minutes after they finish their drink is reasonable. Only 18% think you should use it only for as long as you’re drinking.

Proving it’s not just for Luddites, Eater has a list of 17 wifi-free cafes in tech-loving San Francisco.

 

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It’s Official—PBR is Over. Here’s Proof.

image via The Trademark Blog @ SchwimmerLegal.com

image via The Trademark Blog @ SchwimmerLegal.com

 

If you were born much before 1980, Pabst Blue Ribbon is–
an unremarkable, 170-year old beer; a blue collar favorite that all but disappeared in the 1980’s flood of status imports like Heineken, Molson, and Beck’s. 
If you were born any later–
you know it affectionately as PBR; a no-frills heritage brand that’s become the unbearably hip quaff of choice for young urbanites. Once embraced for its anti-establishment, downscale chic, PBR has achieved mainstream success.

All signs point to peak PBR.
In a scholarly study titled What Makes Things Cool? published by The University of Chicago Press, co-author Dr. Margaret Campbell of the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business (who coined the phrase ‘peak PBR’) traces Pabst Blue Ribbon’s popularity to a calculated association with the nonconformist counterculturalism of hipsters. She asserts that mainstream acceptance robs the brand of its appeal, first driving out the hipsters, and eventually the second wave of adapters will follow. Evidence of a first wave retreat comes from the merchant number-crunchers at Locu who mapped hipster migration patterns and correlated those to frequency of PBR’s appearance on area menus. The PBR strongholds are no longer the hipster hoods; instead the maps light up around college campuses where the drinkers are younger and less edgy—more frat boys than bicycle messengers.

Of course anyone who pays attention to these things already knows that there’s very little left of the brand’s early, scruffy authenticity.
Four years ago, food industry magnate Dean Metropoulos bought Pabst Brewing and granted control to his two sons, then best known for buying Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner’s former Los Angeles mansion (Daren) and appearing as the self-designated ‘youngest tycoon in the world’ on an MTV reality series (Evan). The brothers promptly moved the headquarters from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, jacked up prices, and shed most of the company’s management team.

The most stunning change was firing the advertising and marketing agency that had engineered the PBR comeback. 
The brand’s resurrection is now the stuff of legend. The agency orchestrated a stealthy campaign that the New York Times dubbed The Marketing of No Marketing with none of the traditional trappings of beer promotions—no Super Bowl spots, NASCAR banners, busty barmaids, or celebrities. In their place were small-scale sponsored events aimed at an alternative crowd—bike polo tournaments, art gallery openings, film screenings, and indie book releases; the sponsorship always seemed like an afterthought with no signs or trinket giveaways or glad-handing executives in from Pabst’s corporate offices.

Since 2010, promotions have moved beyond the shaggy dive bar crowd.
There are splashy new sponsorship deals with car races and music festivals, and the company is none too shy about self-promotional signage and banners, and there are always plenty of key ring and beer cozy giveaways. Logo-emblazoned tee shirts can now be found everywhere from Urban Outfitters to Sears, and the merchandising group has
 licensed some very unhipsterish new items like polyester cowboy hats, golf bags, and surfer gear, some of which made it into the celebrity swag bags at this year’s Country Music Association Awards.

Trouble seems to be brewing for PBR as hipsters flee.
Growth has stalled, despite a robust PBR infrastructure built by pioneering urban dwellers. Never a good sign, PBR hater sites have sprung up, while the parody industry has fired off video clips and spoofs coming from The Simpsons, filmmaker David Lynch, and a whole channel of unknowns who mock the PBR mystique on Funny or Die.

Is there hope for PBR now that its coolness quotient has plummeted?
Not according to Refinery 29, the arbiter of all things hip, with a recently titled post PBR is Officially Over.
And if you still need further proof of its demise, look to the Metropoulos boys who are already planning the second coming of Ballantine.

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food business, food trends | Leave a comment

From Food Blogger to Cookbook Author

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

It’s the brass ring, the golden ticket, and the winning lottery numbers all rolled into one.    
Not every food blogger wants a cookbook deal, but it’s always a win when a publisher comes calling.

It’s been a long and lonely slog.
Sometimes blogging can seem so pointless. Even when readership is significant and loyal, it’s just one more blog among the thousands. At some point every blogger wonders if anyone would notice if they just packed it in. There are plenty of bloggers out there that are ready to take your place in readers’ mailboxes and news feeds. Would you even be missed?

A book deal screams, Don’t stop!    
It validates all the bathrobe-clad hours at the keyboard. Readers don’t just like you—they want more. And a cookbook deal—that means that your recipes are coming to life in readers’ kitchens. Somehow, your blog has convinced a publisher that the public is even willing to shell out good money for your culinary musings. Go ahead and pinch yourself.

Here are the latest winners of the blog-to-cookbook sweepstakes.
They all come from longtime bloggers with 2014 release dates.

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Thug Kitchen explodes the myth of the mild-mannered vegan with a kick to your narrow dietary minded ass. The cookbook irreverently blends a penchant for profanity (motto: eat like you give a f**k) with recipes like lime-cauliflower tacos and pumpkin chili. 

 

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The Kitchn began life as the food blog from Apartment Therapy, a home decorating and lifestyle blog, but has gone on to attract its own audience of 14 million visitors a month. Appropriately, The Kitchn Cookbook is equally devoted to recipes and to something the authors re calling a handbook to a happy kitchen.

 

100DaysRealFoodLogoThere’s a popular notion that you can achieve just about anything if you give it 100 days of effort. Sites like 100 Day Challenge and Give It 100 share tales of people learning a musical instrument, climbing Everest, hitting home runs, and becoming debt-free, all from three months of practice, discipline, and accountability. Now we have the 100 Days of Real Food Cookbook , which tells the story (with recipes) of one family that took a three-month pledge that transformed their relationship with food by giving up white flour, white sugar, and anything packaged and processed with more than five ingredients.

The Skinnytaste Cookbook- Light on Calories, Big on Flavor

 

When The Skinny Taste began in 2006, the blog’s creator was experimenting with dishes that would help her lose a few pre-wedding pounds. Fans of the site rave about its appealing, low-fat riffs on typically high-fat dishes like pizza and cheesy baked pastas, and rigorous recipe testing that guarantees success in home kitchens. This fall’s cookbook is mostly new recipes plus a few favorites from the blog.

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Not everyone waits for a publisher. The creator of The Yellow Table blog went the self-publishing route, funding her dinner party cookbook through an over-subscribed Kickstarter campaign—$16,000 beyond her $50,000 goal. She documented the entire process of creating the Yellow Table Cookbook through a five-month blog series called The Cookbook Diaries.

And vice versa 
Check out Delicious Days’ list of food writers and cookbook authors who followed up a publishing career by starting a food blog.

Posted in bloggers, diversions, recipes | Leave a comment

Pizza-nomics

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There are three prices every true New Yorker tracks: rent, subway fare, and the price of a slice of pizza.
Rents are famously crazy, but pizza and subway rides are stabilized by an economic axiom known as the New York Pizza PrincipleThrough a strange and delicate interplay of metropolitan financial markets, the cost of a subway ride has always run parallel to the price of a slice of pizza.

Comparing apples and oranges seems easy next to pizza and subway rides.
To an outsider, the relationship might seem arbitrary, but not to a New Yorker. The city’s subway system and its pizza are both essential institutions that touch nearly all of New York’s citizens.

This economic law has held with remarkable precision since 1964, when either one could be had for 15 cents.
Price increases have moved in lockstep ever since. The parallel is all the more uncanny when you consider the intervening decades of transportation and street food turbulence. State transit subsidies and deficits have come and gone for the New York City subway system, and pizza parlors have battled low-carb diets, the gluten-free craze, and a food truck invasion. Yet somehow, all the capital costs, union contracts, and passenger miles add up to the ingredient costs of flour, tomato sauce, and mozzarella.

The Pizza Principle suggests that New York City residents should be bracing for a fare hike from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
According to Zagat’s Pizza Week survey, the average regional price of a slice is $2.96 while a single ride on the subway is lagging at just $2.50. Similar pizza price 
inflation has preceded every single subway fare adjustment since these things have been tracked.

New Yorkers looking for a bargain can use Cheazza, an app that hunts down cheap slices around town.

Wherever you are, he number-crunching app Pizza Slice Price lets you compare prices of slices, topping, and whole pies so you can find the best deal. 

Posted in fast food, food knowledge, Travel | Leave a comment

Instant Coffee is Still Big Business. Just not here.

 

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[Nescafé ads of the world  l-r:  India, Philippines, United Arab Emirates, Russia, China, Turkey]

Speed and convenience rule the day.
We love one-click online shopping, ATMs, and microwave popcorn. We want our videos to stream, our deliveries shipped overnight, and communications capped at 140 characters. But we’re willing to wait for a cup of coffee, because we know it’s worth it.

Instant coffee is still big business, but most of that business has shifted to traditional tea-drinking nations where they don’t really know from coffee.
Only 7% of Americans regularly drink instant coffee; in France it’s 4%, and in Italy it’s a mere 1%. Contrast that with countries like England, India, and China where the vast majority of coffee- as much as 90% in some areas- is made with powders, concentrates, and freeze-dried crumbles reconstituted in boiling water.

The instant coffee strongholds are concentrated in Africa, Asia, and Britain—places with deeply embedded tea cultures. They all have highly developed aesthetics and intricate social structures associated with tea drinking. Standards are exacting and  brewing technique is perfected over a lifetime.

Instant coffee first appeared in these tea cultures when it traveled the globe in the ration packs of US troops during World War Two. It was fairly nasty stuff—bitter and stale and made from cheap, low quality robusta beans rather than the more desirable arabica variety—but what did they know? It was modern and glamorous and exotic, and all you needed was a kettle and a cup. 

Instant coffee never prevailed in the U.S.
We invented it and we foisted it on the rest of the world, but few of us will touch the stuff. Our coffee traditions are deeply resonant—the grinding, the brewing, the taste, and aroma—and can be every bit as ritualized as tea ceremonies are in other countries. We demand speed and convenience from single-serve coffee makers and a Starbucks on every corner, but our connoisseurship has been rising steadily for decades, moving us further from the quality compromise of instant coffee. In other words, we know better. 

Posted in coffee, food business, Travel | 1 Comment

Everyone Wants to Walk to the Coffee Shop

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Abbey Road via Apple (Parlophone)/EMI

Urbanologists call it The Great Inversion.
The last half century was spent fleeing the blight and density of cities. Now we want to go back. The jacuzzi-tubbed four-bedroom suburban spread doesn’t signal the success it once did. These days you’re a nobody if you can’t walk out the front door and get a latté.

It’s a cultural shift built on coffee.
77% of Americans say that walkability is a hugely important factor when they decide where to live. Most say that they would choose a small home with nearby amenities over a larger home where they have to drive everywhere. And the favored amenity isn’t schools, churches, parks, or movie theaters; it’s a café that’s within walking distance.

A premium coffee vendor is no small thing to a neighborhood.
It signals that a neighborhood has 
arrived, that it has economic vitality and cultural momentum that can continue to snowball into something greater. Realtors and civic associations even refer to this type of upswing as the ‘Starbucks Effect.’ And we’re not just talking about fuzzy, quality of life issues; there is usually a real increase in property values when a neighborhood acquires food-related amenities.

Walk Score rates the walkability of any home or business. It calculates a score from 0–100 for any address— 100 is a Walker’s Paradise and 0 is totally Car Dependent. The algorithm assigns points based on the nearby amenities, as well as factors like cul de sacs (not a walk-friendly feature) and block lengths (shorter is better). A car-free lifestyle becomes possible with a score upward of 80. A study conducted by CEOs for Cities uses Walk Scores to quantify the Starbucks Effect: it estimates that each point adds $3,000 to a home’s sales price.

What’s your Walk Score?
If you’ve ever lived in a highly walkable neighborhood, you already know what a beautiful thing it is. Walkable communities are happier, healthier, safer, cleaner, and greener.

See the Walk Scores of some well-known residences:
The Obama’s former Chicago home has a middling Walk Score of 71. The move to the White House got them into a home with the very robust score of 97.
The Brady Bunch ranch house had a Walk Score of 74; very respectable for the San Fernando Valley.
Monica’s lower Manhattan apartment on Friends scores an unbeatable 100 points.

 

 

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From Dot-Com to Dot-Whatever

image via Hypographia

image via Hypographia

 

The internet is too big to be contained by .com, .net, .org, and .gov.
The organization in charge of internet addresses is pushing a major expansion in domain name suffixes. Brands can now apply to own their own domain suffixes like .pepsi or .nike, and there will be keyword suffixes like .dating, .travel, and .football

For years we’ve been making do with just 22 suffixes, plus a few dozen country-specific ones like .uk  and .fr for Britain and France, but the floodgates have been thrown open. According to NetNames, thousands of new suffixes have been applied for, with nearly every large company in the U.S. and western Europe planning to transition within the next three years. There’s already a new universe of domains using Cyrillic, Arabic, and Chinese characters, and fierce competition has risen as Google, Amazon, and other online giants vie for prized suffixes like .book, .store, .app, and .cloud.

Côtes du Rhône, Napa Valley Chardonnay, Chateau d’Arsac-Margaux: to wine lovers, these names speak volumes.
The wine industry is very particular when it comes to labels—there are varietal names, vineyard names, winery estate names, and geographical appellations. They define grape varieties and winemaking practices, topography, climate, soil, traditional methods, and sourcing of ingredients. French wine labeling relies on a classification system that dates back to 1411. The evolving standards for American wine regions are newer but no less critical to the industry’s integrity and economic success. The requirements link each bottle to a particular location where the grapes are grown and the wine is made, all of which speak to specific characteristics, production standards, and the quality of the product.

The new suffixes pit domaines against domains. 
On both sides of the Atlantic, winemakers are fighting to keep out new domain name suffixes 
and vow to boycott them if they’re issued. They fear that the new domain names will open the door to misrepresentation, fraud, and counterfeiting. Think of Champagne versus the world of lesser sparkling wines: everything from pruning to vineyard yields to the degree of pressing to release dates has been codified. The Champagne label has been legally protected for centuries, extending into more than 70 countries and reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. But those legal protections don’t extend to internet governance, so pretty much anyone with the requisite $185,000 purchase price can go out and register the domain name suffix and affix it to any old bottle of fizzy plonk. 

The names and reputations of the world’s great wine regions and varietals might be priceless, but unscrupulous cyber-squatters will no doubt test the limits.
They’re lining up to buy the most illustrious and treasured of the appellations. They expect to ‘flip’ them for profit to legitimate wine industry constituents, or hold them and extort usage fees. 

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

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

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, cyberculture | Leave a comment

Your Next Nosh: The Best New Treats from the Sweets & Snacks Expo

image via The National Confectioners Association

image via The National Confectioners Association

 

There were plenty of smiles when the annual Sweets & Snacks Expo wrapped up earlier this week.
It’s not just that they’d spent a few days in a real life, sugar-sprinkled Candyland; even better was the industry report. Candy is more than dandy. Sales grew to an all-time record $33.6 billion in 2013, and the forecast for this year, with Halloween, the year’s biggest candy holiday, falling on a weekend night, is even sweeter.
For all the talk of healthy eating, it’s our enduring love of candy that rules the day.

The industry likes to talk about the four S’s: snacking, sharing, simplicity, and sustainability, and they were clearly driving this year’s trends.
Many of the old familiar candy bars are shrinking down to poppable, shareable bite sized bits. Scaled-down Milky Ways, Kit Kats, Twizzlers, and Airheads all come as bags of Bites; there are Starburst, Reese’s, and York Peppermint Patty Minis, Sour Punch Punchies, and tiny marshmallow Peeps, hoping to find a life after Easter. Inexplicably, Hershey’s went in the other direction introducing a full-sized Krackel bar, better known as a perennial member of the assorted miniatures bag. Sustainability shows up in a slew of all-natural, fair trade, GMO-free, and organic labels. Some heritage brands are reformulating to rid themselves of gelatin and other animal byproducts to earn the vegan label. There are new chocolate-covered fruits and grains from Dove and Hershey-owned Brookside Chocolates, as well as limited edition and seasonal offerings that purport to tap into the farm-to-table movement.

With thousands of new treats to choose from, experts say it’s likely that just a handful of new products will ever make it to the big time as national brands with $100 million or so in sales. A panel of judges from the National Confectioners Association, which sponsors the annual Expo, weighed in with their six top picks for the show’s most promising and innovative products, and the event’s attendees voted for the people’s choice award winner. 

 

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top row l-r:  Chocolate Traveler’s Tabasco Dark Spicy Chocolate Wedges, Ripple Brand Collective Dark Chocolate Bark Thins with Toasted Coconut and Almonds
second row l-r: Chocolate Doodle Egg, Jelly Belly Draft Beer Flavored Jelly Beans
third row l-r: Project 7 Coconut Lime Sugar Free Gum, York Peppermint Patty minis- the people’s choice top vote-getter
bottom row: Farts Candy- judged Best in Show  (with apologies. I don’t pick ‘em)

 

 

 

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Is Junk Food the New Tobacco?

via US Department of Health & Human Services

image via US Department of Health & Human Services

 

Junk food is the new tobacco: that’s the takeaway from The World Health Organization’s Assembly that’s taking place right now in Geneva. The U.N.’s Olivier De Schutter opened the summit with this statement:

Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco. Just as the world came together to regulate the risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed.

If only. Regulating junk food will make the tobacco battle look like a walk in the park.

Here’s how they’re the same:
We all know that both are bad. It’s a universally-accepted truth that tobacco and junk food are implicated among the leading causes of premature death and chronic disease.
Both are incredibly addictive. Last year the American Medical Association officially classified food addiction as a disease. Eating junk food triggers physiological changes and neural responses; in the food -addicted (estimated to be one of us in twenty) the brain’s response is virtually indistinguishable from that of smokers, alcoholics, and drug addicts when they’re given their drug of choice.

Here’s why junk food is more perilous:
Tobacco is sabotage, and every smoker knows it, but food is supposed to be good for us.
Tobacco is a binary choice—to smoke or not to smoke. Eating is not a discretionary activity; food is sustenance. While cigarettes can be avoided, food addicts are forced to confront their demons three times a day. How long do you think abstinence would last if former smokers were offered a pack of cigarettes at every meal?

You can argue that junk food is a choice, but is it really?
There’s no scientific or nutritional standard to separate the junky stuff from the healthy foods. Junk food has no official classification or designation in the food industry, the medical community, or governmental agencies. 
Some say that if you have to ask it’s probably junk. Or they’ll point to the classic pornography definition that relies on prevailing standards: you know it when you see it. Until there’s an acid test or even basic agreement on a simple definition, we can’t be sure of our choices, and more importantly, there’s no way to regulate it.

It’s not as simple as avoiding the unholy trinity of salt, sugar and fat.
You can’t just draw a line in the sand. Pixie Stix and Doritos are easy, but most foods–even those with a surfeit of the reviled ingredients–have some redeeming nutritional value. Rarely are calories truly empty. There are also plenty of foods–think of nuts, olives, and dark chocolate–that could qualify as junk food for their salt, sugar, or fat levels but are decidedly healthy. Truly dangerous ingredients and additives like artificial trans fats, nitrites, and food dyes should be banned, but mostly we just need to know what’s in our food; we don’t want to be told what we can eat.

The World Health Organization gets it right when it argues for the highest level of global agreement and collective action in dealing with junk food.
It’s also right that there are lessons to be learned from the world-wide effort to reduce smoking like warning labels, stringent advertising guidelines, and limited access to child-oriented media. Like tobacco, taxes should be hiked on unhealthy food products with the revenue funding healthcare and health education, and agricultural subsidies should be distributed to align with our nutritional goals: cheap broccoli and pricey high-fructose corn syrup.
Where the WHO gets it wrong is comparing junk food to cigarettes. Junk food is so much worse.

 

Posted in diet, food policy, Health, snack foods | Leave a comment

You’ll Be Gone Long Before These Foods

This is not about Twinkies.
Or Christmas fruitcake, circa 2004. Or leftovers that wear out their welcome.

Forget what you think you know about spoilage, shelf-life, and expiration dates.
This is a list of foods that never go bad. You don’t toss them when you clean out the pantry, remodel your kitchen, or move to another city.
You’ll be long gone, but that box of brown sugar will live on.

The sweeteners

 

White, brown, or powdered, sugar never goes bad. Bacteria can’t feed on sugar, so it will never spoil. Corn syrup is also a keeper, but we’re not fans of the stuff. Honey, with its own antibacterial properties, has been famous for its longevity ever since centuries-old honey pots were unearthed from ancient Egyptian tombs, and found to be perfectly edible. Maple syrup has a surprisingly limited shelf life of just a year or so, but who knew you could freeze maple syrup indefinitely?!

 

The carbs

Unless you’re wild about gravy, that tin of cornstarch could be the last one you’ll ever buy, since it never goes bad. All of the white rice varieties, like jasmine, arborio, and basmati, will keep forever; the higher oil content of brown rice makes those varieties prone to spoilage. Wild rice is another food that will outlast you, even though it’s not a rice at all, but is an edible grass.

 

The condiments

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Salt—kosher, iodized, from the sea, or chiseled from mines—it never goes bad. Its resistance to bacterial growth makes it handy as a preservative for other foods. Like salt, vinegar is also used to extend the shelf life of other foods, and is, in a pure state without added flavorings, eternally self-preserving. Vanilla (the extract, not the beans) doesn’t just last forever; it actually improves with age. The cheaper, artificial extract is no bargain when you consider the cost to replace it every few years when its flavor fades. Spring for the good stuff and your grandchildren will still be baking with it.

Heat, light, moisture, air, and pests; these are the enemies. Keep them away from your pantry, and you can keep these foods forever.

When in doubt, check with the keep it or toss it query bar at Still Tasty.

 

Posted in cook + dine, food knowledge, home | Leave a comment

Where There’s Smoke There’s…. Ice Cream?

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Liquid nitrogen ice cream has moved out of the modernist chef’s kitchen and into mall kiosks and neighborhood scoop shops.
You’ll find it in a bunch of new-fangled old-fashioned ice cream parlors with names like Chill’N, Sub Zero, and Nitrogenie. The fad is moving into high gear this summer with hundreds of new franchisees, so if you haven’t seen it yet, sit tight for a few months and you will.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is where a high school chemistry lab crosses paths with performance art and dessert.
Mixers are tricked out with gas tanks that instantly freeze the ice cream base. Steamy clouds billow about the mixing bowl as the -320°F gas hits the liquid ingredients. Oohs and aahs ensue, and in a few seconds when the vapors subside the ice cream is ready.

It’s not just schtick. 
Traditional ice cream makers use a two-step freezing processing: there’s a quick super-cooling blast freeze and then the semi-solid product is sent to a commercial freezer to harden. It’s this second step, when the water content freezes into ice crystals, that puts the ice in ice cream. The quick freeze of liquid nitrogen inhibits the formation of ice crystals. It makes the smoothest, creamiest ice cream you’ve ever tasted.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is free of emulsifiers and stabilizers.
Additives like guar gum, xanthan gum, and carrageenan are familiar to you if you’ve ever read the side of a commercially produced ice cream carton. These are added to improve ice cream’s structure and keep the growth rate of ice crystals to an acceptable level. And the oily extracts like monoglycerides, diglycerides, and polysorbate 80 are there to add smoothness. 

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is made on the spot and meant to be eaten on the spot.
You see exactly what goes into it and usually it’s nothing more than milk, cream, and flavorings, with each serving made to order.

Kids, don’t try this at home.
Liquid nitrogen is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and with proper handling it’s perfectly safe to eat. The ice cream makers like to remind us that it’s a natural element that makes up 75% of the air we breathe. But it’s also used for cattle branding and to freeze off warts. Stick your finger in it and it will freeze and crack off; eat some that’s not fully vaporized and your stomach can explode. Liquid nitrogen ice cream is one of those foods that’s best left to the professionals.

Posted in dessert, food knowledge, trends | Leave a comment

The Bumpy Road to Nutrition Labeling for Alcohol

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image via Wear Your Beer

 

Think about it– everything has a label.
Every box, bag, can, and bottle; if it’s meant to be be consumed it’s required to have a a rundown of ingredients and calories, fats and carbs. Everything but alcohol. For years labels weren’t even allowed.

For an explanation, you have to go all the way back to Prohibition.

The Food and Drug Administration was already in place regulating what we eat and drink, but Congress, recognizing the tax potential, assigned oversight of the newly legal alcoholic beverages to the Treasury Department under the auspices of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and passed the Federal Alcohol Administration Act of 1935, which is still in force.

The TTB holds beer, wine, and liquor manufacturers to very different labeling standards than other food and beverage makers.
TTB standards have never included the nutrition facts you see everywhere else. Beer makers were actually forbidden from putting alcohol content information on their labels, finally suing for the right to do so in 1987. There are some arcane legal distinctions that put labels on the food content of things like low-alcohol wine, light and gluten-free beer, and hard cider, but you’d have a tough time hunting down the carbohydrates in Chardonnay or the sugar content of Jim Beam.

Between the obesity epidemic and rampant food intolerances, consumers shouldn’t be kept in the dark.
Fortunately we’re finally moving toward greater transparency, helped along by the Affordable Care Act, which requires most multi-outlet restaurants and food and beverage retailers to post calorie information for all menu items, including alcoholic beverages. Last May, the TTB lifted its mind-boggling ban on nutrition labels and adopted an interim policy of voluntary disclosures in advertising and on packaging for beer, wine, and spirits. Mandatory labeling can’t be far behind.

For now we have to satisfy ourselves with the rather sketchy information provided by the government’s National Nutrition Database for Standard Reference. It’s a humorously arbitrary, semi-useful assortment of nutrition facts offering vague profiles of wine (simply ‘red’ or ‘white’), generic averages of beer (‘regular’ or ‘light’), but gives a detailed analysis of three different recipes for a whiskey sour and includes one mysterious entry for ‘tequila sunrise, canned.’

 

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Just Because You Can Make It In a K-Cup It Doesn’t Mean You Should

Are you really stumped by soup?

PJ-BU294_OATMEA_DV_20140415113507Campbell-Soup-K-CupFor everyone who’s ever struggled with the complexities of Cup-a-Soup or instant ramen, Keurig®, the inventor/maker of the K-Cup® coffee pod has teamed up with Campbell’s® to bring us Fresh-Brewed Soup™ in pod form. Never has broth and noodles been so easy or had so many superscripts. You can also say goodbye to the onerous task of mixing water into a packet of instant oatmeal with the just-announced Keurig-General Mills partnership that will manufacture an oatmeal K-cup. Pans and stoves? Who are we, the Waltons?

Is is time to consider the possibility that food can be too convenient?
Have you looked around the supermarket lately? The garlic has been peeled, the pineapples have their cores removed, and the onions are already chopped. There are pre-cooked slices of bacon, pre-boiled eggs, and shrink-wrapped potatoes— washed and poked and ready to bake. When you tire of spreading cream cheese on your bagels just pick up some Bagel-fuls, and frozen Uncrustables come to the rescue when you forget the recipe for PB&J.

We’ve all bought our share of pre-washed salad greens and pre-trimmed baby carrots, but some of these packaged, processed shortcut foods boggle the mind. Taste and quality are compromised, they’ve lost nutrients and gained preservatives, and the price has risen exponentially. They take a minimally-packaged, shelf-stable food and transform it into a product that is encased in pouches, packets, and pods. They commit egregious culinary and environmental offenses in the name of ease and convenience.

The siren song of lazy food
One in five adults will drink a pod-brewed beverage today, and it’s not just coffee. Keurig makes K-Cups for tea and cocoa, and cold drinks like Snapple iced teas, lemonade, apple cider, and vitamin waters. And now oatmeal and soup. Where they’ll go next is anyone’s guess.

 

Keurig K-cup™ 5-Star Meals via Think Geek

Keurig K-Cup™ 5-Star Meals via Think Geek

 

 

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The Coffee Break- A Vaunted Worker Tradition

coffee cup cozy available at Handmade Coffee's Etsy store

coffee cup cozy available at Handmade Coffee’s Etsy store

 

The lunch break has all but disappeared under a mountain of emails, but the coffee break seems inviolable.
It’s a highlight of the workday, the favorite employee benefit even at perk-heavy companies like Google with their ping pong tables and free haircuts. The Department of Labor even gives it special status—lunchtime can be off the books but coffee breaks have to be paid.

Some of us need more coffee than others.
Every year Dunkin’ Donuts teams up with CareerBuilder to survey Americans about their workplace coffee habits. The most recent survey ranked the top 10 heaviest coffee drinking professions:

  1. food prep and food service workers
  2. scientists and lab technicians
  3. sales reps
  4. marketing and PR professionals
  5. nurses
  6. writers and editors
  7. business and finance executives
  8. K-12 teachers
  9. engineers
  10. IT managers and network administrators

Even if your profession didn’t make the top 10 you’re probably drinking coffee on the job. Optimize the habit with these apps for coffee breakers:

coffee-break-app

Caffeine Tracker monitors the body’s metabolization of caffeine. Just provide a few body specs and record your consumption and it displays the current level of caffeine in your bloodstream in a color-coded pie chart.

Are you the one making the Starbucks run? Skip the post-its and keep all the no-foams and half-cafs straight with Coffee Order.

Up Coffee correlates your coffee drinking with your sleep patterns. Give it a few days of your habits and it can tell you how long you’ll feel wired from that last cup and when to cut off the caffeine so that you can get a good night’s sleep.

Take a real break with the Coffee Break AppIt darkens your computer screen for a pre-determined duration, guaranteeing the pleasures of a work-free cup.

 

 

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Kids Are Drinking Way More Coffee. So What?!

babydrinkingcoffee

A new report published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that 73% of children and young adults in the United States have a regular caffeine habit, and more than ever they’re getting their jolt from coffee. In 2000 just 10% of their caffeine came from coffee; now it’s nearly 25%.

Of course kids are drinking coffee.
What else is left? Not soda with all that nasty high fructose corn syrup, and diet soda, we’re now learning, is even worse. Sports drinks and juice boxes are not much better, and there’s too much lactose intolerance going around for milk to make a comeback. 
Coffee it is. And what’s so wrong with that?

It’s not going to stunt anyone’s growth. postum_ad
That old chestnut? Generations of children grew up hearing it but it turns out to be linked to nothing more than early 20th century pseudoscientific ads plugging Postum, a once popular coffee-alternative.
The grain-based, caffeine-free drink—still much-loved in Mormon circles where coffee is banned—achieved early mainstream success with ads touting Postum as a kid-friendly beverage while vilifying coffee with claims that “It robs children of their rosy cheek sand sparkling eyes. It lowers their vitality, lessens their resistance to disease, and hampers proper development and growth.” The message took root in the country’s cultural consciousness and persists to this day.

A few more inches might have been nice, but don’t blame your early coffee habit.
The medical community has found virtually nothing to support a link between coffee and height. The myth makes much of the fact that caffeine has an adverse effect on the body’s absorption of calcium, but that bit of ‘common knowledge’ originated with a single bone mass study of elderly people with osteoporosis whose diets were lacking in calcium. For everyone else, the impact is so negligible that a couple of cups of coffee a day can be offset by a splash of creamer or the foam on top of a cappuccino.

Of course you don’t want to be revving their little engines with caffeine.
Tolerances and responses to caffeine differ widely among individuals, and it can cause jitters and sleeplessness in children just like it can in the rest of us. But there is a growing body of evidence that coffee can actually have a calming effect on some kids. If you’re familiar with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) you know that it’s typically treated with pharmaceutical stimulants—it seems counterintuitive but they work on the brain’s chemistry to calm and focus an overactive mind. New research suggests that the natural stimulants in coffee have the same effect, and findings indicate that caffeine can also work as an anti-depressant in children.

When it comes to kids and coffee, the real problem isn’t the caffeine.
It’s the vanilla syrup, the caramel drizzle, and the whipped cream. It’s all the sugary, frozen, and blended concoctions that masquerade as coffee, some that hover in burger-and-fries territory in terms of fat and calories. For a child, that can add up to breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in a single to-go cup, and there aren’t many kids who take it black.
And then there’s the cost: at four bucks a pop for a fancy latté drink, unless you want to give a serious bump to your child’s weekly allowance, no one should be in a hurry to cultivate an early coffee habit.

hellokittycoffee

 

 

 

 

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New Snacks Get the Junk Out of Junk Food

Snacking gets a bad rap.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. A well-chosen snack will stave off hunger, boost your energy, and supply your body with important nutrients. What’s wrong is that we reach too often for the empty calories of junk food.

Lucky for us that there’s a new generation of healthier snack foods that mimic the crunchy, creamy, sweet, and salty foods we crave but without the fat and sugar overload.

ohsoHealthy chocolate
Lots of the new snacks are pushing the functional properties of chocolate. When the cacoa content (or cocoa, which is cacao in its roasted, ground form) reaches around 70 percent, it crowds out the milk, sugar, and butterfat, and you get a big, healthy dose of antioxidants and heart benefits. Look for Wellness Cacao, a fruity French line, the probiotic Ohso bars, and IQ Superfood Chocolate.

Green Wave Smoothie Pops

 

Kale lollies
Will nothing stop the march of the kale evangelists? Forget Good Humor bars; it’s all about kale ice lollies like Greenway Smoothie Pops.

 

WheyThins-SourCreamChive-960x960Not Wheat Thins. Whey Thins.
Whey is the liquid remaining in cheese making after the curds are strained out. A serving of Wheat Thins crackers delivers 2 grams of protein in 140 calories. A 100-calorie pack of Whey Thins packs in 10 grams of protein, and it comes in snacky flavors like sour cream and chive and barbecue.

 

Chia_Pod_foto_3Chia snacks
Chia is an ancient grain that is a great source of protein, omega-3, fiber, and slow-release carbohydrates. Look for it in new on-the-go healthy snack foods like Chia Pods and Chia Shots.

EPIC_Bars_520_668_85

 

The new jerky
It’s not just beef anymore. EPIC bars are high protein jerky snacks made from turkey, bison, and beef. The animals are all grass-fed and the bars combine lightly-smoked jerky with nuts and dried fruits.

ips

 

Egg-white crisps
Intelligent Protein Snacks are air-puffed chips of egg white and corn that are much higher in protein and lower in fat and sodium than traditional chips. Since the term ‘egg white crisps’ doesn’t have much of a ring to it, the company is hoping they’ll become known by the nickname ips (rhymes with chips).

blue-hill-savory-yogurt_600x900

 

 

Savory yogurt
Who said yogurt has to contain fruit? Premium brands are losing the sugary flavorings for naturally sweet vegetables like butternut squash, carrot, tomato, beet, and parsnip. Yogurt makers are betting that there’s still room in the refrigerator case among all those Greeks.

 

We are truly a nation of noshers with most Americans skipping meals but snacking so frequently that we have pushed daily eating occasions up to an average of 10 a day. You can read more about the snacking phenomenon at Gigabiting’s Life has Become One Continuous Snack.

Stay on top of the latest snacking trends with a subscription service like Nature Box. Choose a box size of 5, 10, or 20 snacks, and then customize your snacking preferences with dozens of taste and dietary options, and every month you’ll receive a selection of all-natural, high quality snacks.

 

 

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Dinner Party Wars

image via MissOmniMedia

image via MissOmniMedia

 

There’s a show on the Food Network in Canada called Dinner Party Wars:

Dinner Party Wars invites you to enjoy a deliciously hilarious hour of wining, dining and undermining as three couples go head to head in a ruthless, no-holds-barred dinner party competition. Hidden cameras capture every detail as testy guests come to blows and taste buds are either tickled or tortured.

A Canadian chef and a British etiquette expert serve as arbiters of taste and style by mocking, critiquing, and choosing an eventual winner from competitions like Gnocchi Knockdown and Chicken Bingo.

This is home entertaining as a full contact sport.
It’s soulless competition, a manifestation of our over-heated foodie-ism that has turned dining into an emblem of status and lifestyle. And it’s a far cry from the simple pleasures of sharing a hand-crafted meal with friends.

It’s easy to see where we lost our way. 
It started with Martha—the one we love to hate and hate to love. Martha Stewart taught us to sweat the details with her asparagus bundles braided with strands of chive. She instilled in us her mania for perfection and armed us with stencils, X-acto knives, and a carpenter’s level to decorate cookies.

Then the foodies took over. We learned to critique every morsel, abandoning genuine gustatory pleasures as we vet the preparation and provenance of each locally-grown, artisan-crafted, bee-friendly bite. Entertaining is fraught with political correctness and one-upmanship knowing that you’ll be drummed out of polite society if you serve the wrong coffee.

Dinner party perfection should be at most aspirational. We shouldn’t expect to reproduce the slick pages of Bon Appetit or Martha Stewart Living any more than a reader of Playboy expects to date a Playmate. 
And in any case there’s always a lot of air-brushing going on.

Our current favorite antidote to dinner host anxiety is Kinfolk. 
It’s a magazine, dinner and workshop series, online journal, and film series that celebrate the soul of the dinner party. It’s about artistry, but it’s scaled back to a simple elegance. You’ll find recipes, table settings, and shopping resources, but it’s more inspirational than instructional. There’s nothing super-human about any of it. Feet on the ground, sleeves rolled up, and you’ll get there by dinner time.

 

Posted in cook + dine, Entertainment, home | Leave a comment

The Coffee Break

image via Visual Photos

image via Visual Photos

 

The coffee break is a highlight of the workday 
The 2013 Workonomix Survey of workplace spending reports that 50 percent of the American workforce has a $20 weekly coffee habit. That’s a $1000 a year on 9 to 5 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.

Take a real break with the Coffee Break App. It darkens your computer screen for the duration, guaranteeing the pleasures of a work-free cup.

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Things To Do with a Freezer During a Polar Vortex

 

Move over, freezer. You’ve been replaced by a polar vortex.
The weather phenomenon has spawned an online craze for homegrown science experiments that exploit the frigid temperatures. There’s the boiling-water toss (I’ll spare you the frozen urine iteration), the frozen egg on a New York sidewalk, the shattering frozen t shirt, and everyone’s favorite frozen bubbles.
How can a household appliance compete with that?!

Here are some alternative uses that will restore your freezer appreciation:


burned_pot

Clean a pot
Stick pots and pans in the freezer to remove stuck-on, burned-on messes. It works even better than soaking.

 

Beeswax-taper-candles

 

 

Extend the burning time of candles
Frozen wax burns more slowly.

 

top-secret-envelope

 

Open an envelope 
A minute in the freezer and a sealed envelope pops right open. Snoop with impunity with none of the telltale rippling marks left by steam.

 

Harddrive on Ice

 

Revive a hard drive
A few hours in the freezer can be a temporary fix. It won’t bring a crashed drive back to life but it will buy you a few precious minutes to copy files.

 

gum

Unstick gum
Sticky gum and candy will flake right off. Freeze the host object—clothing, shoes, upholstery—long enough for the gum to harden.

 

booksale

Eliminate musty smells
A day or two in the freezer kills molds, mildew, dust mites, bacteria, and other nasties that come along with old books and attic-stored clothes.

 

Even in a polar vortex your freezer can come in handy. Anyway, winter can’t last forever.

 

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What to Drink in a Polar Vortex

polar vortex photo via nasa.gov

polar vortex photo via nasa.gov

 

That nice hot cup of tea could actually be making you colder.
Alcohol? It might feel warm going down, but it’s just about the worst thing you can drink on a cold night. And these nights are really, really cold.

The frigid air holding us in its stinging embrace is the ominously-named polar vortex that slipped away from its arctic perch. It’s shown us how woefully unprepared we are for the record cold temperatures we’re experiencing. We’re particularly misinformed when it comes to choosing winter warmup drinks. It seems to defy logic, but a cold beverage can help you hang on to body heat better than a hot one.

When you drink a hot beverage on a cold day, you feel warmer at first because the hot liquid increases blood flow to the skin, but the body’s regulating mechanisms kick in and quickly turn things around. A hot drink tells the nerve receptors in your mouth that things are getting hot in there and it automatically turns on a cooling response. Basically it makes you sweat, which is a welcome response in warm weather when the perspiration carries heat out of your body and into the atmosphere. But right now, the goal is to keep that body heat tucked away in your core.

A cold drink has the opposite effect. There’s some brief chilling while the liquid is going down, but instead of opening up the sweat glands on your skin, the cold causes blood vessels to contract and your surface skin actually tightens up. Less blood flows through the constricted outer layers of skin, which leaves more to circulate through critical core areas. You might get shivery from the surface chill, but that’s not a bad thing; it just means your muscles are trying to balance the cold surface by creating even more core heat.

If constricted blood vessels protect your body’s core temperature, it follows that beverages that can dilate blood vessels are a bad idea in freezing weather, which is what makes alcoholic beverages so dangerous. Drinking increases the blood flow to your skin; that’s why your cheeks are flushed and you have a warm glow inside and out. It’s deceptive though, because all of that peripheral heat comes at the expense of your vital organs. And the body has no need to shiver because the muscles near the surface are warm. If you venture outside, the shallow surface heat dissipates quickly and your core temperature, which is already lower than it should be, will continue to drop. It’s a surprisingly narrow margin between a safe core temperature (the standard 98.6°) and hypothermia (95°), and alcohol gives you a big head start. Just a few boozy minutes spent outside in polar vortex conditions can get you there.

Can a couple of billion subcontinental residents be wrong?
Remember that most of the world drinks hot tea in hot weather, and Alaska leads the nation in per capita ice cream consumption. It’s counterintuitive but true—hot drinks cool you down and cold drinks warm you up.
In the midst of a polar vortex, when you hear the clink of ice cubes in a tall glass, you know you’re about to get toasty.

 

 

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food knowledge, Health | 2 Comments
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