diversions

See the World from the Ground Up

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If you’re looking for the kind of relaxation that comes from sitting on a beach, this is not for you.

But if you want to get off the beaten track, live and work closely with the locals, gain some practical skills, immerse yourself in the culture of the sustainable food movement, and spend almost nothing in the process, then this is your opportunity.

There are networks of small, mostly family-run farms throughout the U.S. and Europe that host volunteers in exchange for meals and accommodations. The expectation is typically 4 hours a day of farm work. The experiences are as varied as the farms. You can spend a week at a cheese cooperative in the south of France or the summer helping with a medicinal herb garden on a small resort island in Washington state. Accommodations range from rustic to sublime: you could be bunking in a hayloft or a hotel suite, with most arrangements falling somewhere in the middle on the comfort scale.

A number of agricultural associations and volunteer networks make it easy to find opportunities online.

The largest and most established of these is Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms known as WWOOF. In its 30th year, WWOOF has member chapters on every continent so that WWOOFers can string together volunteer opportunities that take them across regions and countries.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service and the New England Small Farm Institute are large clearinghouses for small farms throughout North America.

Help Exchange is strongest in Australia and New Zealand. It lists farmstays, homestays, hostels, B&Bs, ranches, and sailing ships that offer short-term work opportunities in exchange for food and lodgings.

Plan Organic collects volunteer requests culled from farm bureaus, community newsletters, and classified ads, primarily in the UK.

Budget travel. Eco-tourism. Agri-tourism. How will YOU spend your summer vacation?

 

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Sampling or Shoplifting? It’s a Slippery Slope

image via Colors Magazine

image via Colors Magazine

 

 

Spear one cheese cube with a toothpick and you’re sampling. Are you pilfering if you snare a dozen? Is it shoplifting if you dump the plateful in a produce bag for later?
How much is too much? Exactly what constitutes a free sample?
Those were the questions at the heart of a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.

The plaintiff, 68 year-old Erwin Lingitz, went into the Cub Goods supermarket in White Bear Township, Minnesota to pick up a prescription. He helped himself at two un-hosted displays offering free samples of lunch meat, and then packed some up for his wife who was waiting outside in the car. He was arrested by store security as he exited the store.

An attorney for the supermarket chain itemized his haul: “Plaintiff had approximately 14-16 packets of soy sauce along with one plastic produce bag containing 0.61 pounds for [sic] summer sausage and another plastic produce bag containing 0.85 pounds of beef stick in his pockets,” She also claims that the store’s manager had spotted Mr. Lingitz on previous occasions filling plastic produce bags “with 10-20 cookies from the kids’ cookie club tray, which specifically limits the offer to one free cookie per child.”

The supermarket called it theft, arguing that “The plaintiff violated societal norms and common customer understanding regarding free sample practices.”
Mr. Lingitz called it a violation of his civil rights
and filed suit against Cub Goods for $375,000 in damages. It was potentially a landmark case for retailers and cheapskates alike since there is currently no legal definition for free samples. 

The store had defended itself arguing that free samples are governed by “a common-sense rule.”
A few try-before-you-buy grapes is on one side of it, while stuffing a T-bone inside your raincoat is clearly on the other side. The question is, where does 1.46 pounds of ‘free’ lunch meat fall on the side of common sense?

Mr. Lingitz ultimately withdrew his lawsuit, so there was no watershed moment. We’re still left wondering where the legal line exists for free samples. In an interview with the Twin Cities’ Pioneer Press, Lingitz’s wife, Frankie defended her husband with her own ruling: “Something is either free or it isn’t. You can’t arrest somebody for thievery if it is free.”

Mr. Lingitz is hardly standing alone on that slippery slope between sampling and stealing.
Who among us has never popped a grape in their mouth in the produce aisle? A website called Free Money Finance will show you how to save $2,000 a year in grocery bills and grow your net worth by eating free samples.

 

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Big business, civil justice, and just how hot should the coffee be.

image via OC Weekly

image via OC Weekly

 

Hot coffee spills are a perennial darling of product liability lawyers.
Every so often a case comes along that grabs headlines, captures the imagination, and reopens the conversation about frivolous lawsuits, tort reform, and how you like your coffee. The latest baits the public with a few new twists: the litigant is a cop, the coffee was given at no charge, and he’s suing everyone –Starbucks, the barista, the store manager, and the coffee cup’s manufacturer.

Each time we get a new one of these cases, the talk inevitably turns to Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, the 1994 product liability lawsuit that is the stuff of legends. In its much-told popular version, an elderly New Mexican woman bought coffee at a McDonald’s drive through, spilled it on herself, and then successfully sued the fast food company for $3 million. This version of the events became the punchline to a thousand jokes and inspired one of the more memorable Seinfeld episodes. It also became a flashpoint in a national debate over frivolous lawsuits and a rallying cry for tort reform that nearly torpedoed the 7th Amendment.

The bare bones of the lawsuit are true: there was a spilled cup of coffee and an absurdly large payout.
Less known is that Ms. Liebeck was seriously burned. Third degree burns covered 6% of her body. She had to be hospitalized for eight days and underwent skin grafting surgeries and other treatments over the next two years. She might have been clumsy or sloppy or even negligent when she popped the lid off to add cream and sugar, but that coffee was HOT!

It was one scalding, blistering, piping hot cup of coffee.
When you buy a hot beverage you can reasonably expect it to be hot; in fact hotness is part of the value being provided. It can even be hot enough to demand caution on the part of the drinker. Just how hot is at the seller’s discretion. Your home carafe probably holds the coffee at 150º or so, while a restaurant is likely serving it at more like 175°. There’s no legally sanctioned serving temperature, and when there’s litigation the courts generally look to loosely defined industry standards.

McDonald’s had served Ms. Liebeck a 193° cup of coffee—that’s dangerously hot by anyone’s standards. She wasn’t looking for a big pay day but just wanted to be reimbursed for direct costs related to the accident. She wrote to McDonald’s asking for $20,000 to cover hospital bills and some lost wages, and the company countered with a lowball offer of $800. After a few more rounds of letters, and with no settlement in sight, she filed a lawsuit asking for $100,000 in compensatory damages and more in punitive damages.

Why punitive damages? Because McDonald’s was knowingly selling a beverage at a temperature that is unsafe for contact with human flesh.
McDonald’s was well aware that its coffee was dangerously hot. It had already seen 700 claims relating to hospitalizations and medical care for second and third degree burns sustained by both children and adults, but deemed the issue ‘statistically insignificant,’ occurring in a mere one in 24 million coffee sales. The corporation’s quality assurance manager and its human factors engineer both testified that while serious injury occurs on a regular basis, from a business standpoint it was more efficient to just settle claims than to alter the brewing process. The original offer to Liebeck of $800 no doubt fit into that calculation.

After hearing this tale of corporate indifference, the jury in Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants needed just four hours to reach its infamous decision.
The jury awarded Liebeck $160,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages. It’s a jawdropper until you realize that it reflected a mere two days’ worth of McDonald’s coffee revenues, and was not even enough to push the coffee issue into the category of ‘statistically significant.’ In other words, they’re still brewing and serving coffee at dangerously high temperatures and still fighting off claims with cash settlements.

Mobile coffee technology has evolved in the intervening years.
The safer, sculpted travel lid with a sipping hole has replaced the old-style flat pull-tab lid as the norm in to-go cups. Cup holders are now standard for every seat in the car, and all those lattés and cappuccinos are cooling things down because milk is steamed at much lower temperatures than coffee is brewed. Still, the burns occur and the lawsuits persist.

  • Read about the current state of coffee spills in the recently published Handling Hot Coffee.
  • Hot Coffee: The Movie is available for streaming on Netflix.
  • Follow along as Officer Matt Kohr aims to break new legal ground as he sues Starbucks, International Paper, and the guys who made and served his coffee.
Posted in coffee, diversions, food safety | Leave a comment

What’s Better: Highly Rated or Highly Ranked?

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Who’s really number one?

Restaurant rankings are a relatively new measure of gastronomic greatness.
Reviewers always rated restaurants, often using the shorthand of 3 stars or 2 forks, thumbs up or down, going back a century to the first Michelin guides. Then Zagat came along with its 30-point rating scale that moved us away from entire classes of restaurants toward individual glory, and a decade ago we got theWorld’s 50 Best Restaurants, the list that made household names out of Spain’s elBulli and Copenhagen’s Noma, and has quickly become a dominant player in global media coverage of the industry. Most of the user-submitted review sites like  Yelp, Urbanspoon, Open Table, and Trip Advisor use a combination, aggregating and averaging the individual ratings to create best of and top ten lists.

Ratings and rankings are not interchangeable.
Both methods have their proponents, and both have their inherent flaws.

Ratings ask you how much you like it.
In theory, everyone is using a common scale of measurement, and applying that scale to different dining experiences with consistency. Of course the reality is something very different: reviews reflect the critics’ quirks, biases, and grudges. Their health, the weather, their mood, even the outfit they’re wearing can affect how a meal strikes their fancy on any particular day. Ratings don’t require a unique score for each restaurant and there’s a tendency to cluster the scores in a very narrow distribution. Researchers have also found that response styles differ systematically by culture, for instance Indians tend toward more extreme scores, both good and bad, while most Asian respondents are more moderate, and French reviewers tend to be be more positive than the less-generous Dutch.

Rankings ask you to compare it with all the others.
In their simplest form, rankings can feel very natural. We all have a basic impulse to make comparisons—it’s easy to distinguish a preference for pound cake over angel food, or to say that you like In-N-Out burgers better than Five Guys. But what if you’re choosing between pound cake and blueberry pie and rice pudding and mango sorbet and chocolate chip cookies? Or a French brasserie, an Italian trattoria, a steakhouse, and those same burger joints? Rankings can get difficult in a hurry.

It’s much more taxing to rank a group of restaurants than to rate them. Psychologists say that when you get past three choices most people start to get sloppy and even arbitrary with rankings. While the cognitive effort required to rate a group of restaurants is linear—the same mental process is independently repeated for each—the work of rank-order reviews rises almost exponentially since each additional choice has to be compared to every other one on the list. Once a list tops seven entries, the whole process can go off the rails.

Good food is subjective.
The ratings and rankings of restaurant reviews have their place, but there’s no substitute for a place at the table. Dining experiences are shaped by individual genetics and gender, historical and cultural influences, mood, emotions, context, and hunger. Reviews can create expectations and even guide the experience, but no two people can ever truly taste in the same way.

 

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Do a Farmer a Favor. Shop Online

 

 

Old School                                                 New School

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This is the year you’ll visit an online farmers market (at least you should).
I know; it seems counterintuitive. Farmers markets are as old school as it get. They’re quaint and homespun, all about time-honored tradition and sensual, earthy pleasures. Could anything be more IRL?

Here come the corporate interlopers online distributors.
Virtual markets promise organic produce, heirloom varieties, and artisan-made foods delivered to your doorstep. Small startups like Backyard Produce, Good EggsFarmigo, and Full Circle have been aiming for their own regional footholds, and now the e-commerce giant Overstock wants to take it nationwide. Famous for peddling marked down closeout home goods and last year’s model electronics, Overstock is launching an online farmers’ marketplace and aiming to take it national.

The farmers market movement could stagnate without an online marketplace.
Industry watchers speculate that we might have reached ‘peak farmers market.’ Farmers markets blew up beginning in the 1990’s when fewer than 2,000 of them were scattered across the country. The number of markets doubled and then doubled again, now standing at 8,268, and farmers have seen double and triple-digit growth in lucrative direct-to-consumer sales. Today, even though consumer demand remains high, sales have stalled in recent years. New outlets like farm-to-table restaurants and specialty grocers have picked off some of the sales, but some think that the farmers market boom may be leveling off because of mismatched supply and demand.

Key urban markets have run out of farmers.
Urban farmers markets used to be a weekend morning phenomenon where farmers would set up once a week in an out of the way parking lot. Now there are weekday markets, night markets, winter markets, downtown markets, and pop-up markets. While city residents can support the concentration of markets, the high-priced farmland of regional ecosystems can’t support enough producers. The problem is especially acute in cities in the Northeast and on the West Coast, while in the less densely populated regions of the Midwest and Southwest, there are plenty of farmers but fewer urban outlets within their reach.

Overstock just might be a good thing for local farmers.
There’s a tendency to be reflexively dismissive toward Overstock, but you shouldn’t. The company has other community-focused ventures under its belt like Worldstock, a fair trade world artisans’ division, Main Street Revolution, an Etsy-like business selling American-made products from individuals and small businesses, and the Pet Adoption feature, which lets animal shelters across the country to piggyback on the shopping site as a free service to connect consumers to adoptable pets.

It’s a national network, but the goal is to ship locally.
Overstock has taken a grass roots approach to the enterprise and is building a national network of growers and producers. Ahead of this season’s launch, they started the process by cold-calling small farms listed in the US Department of Agriculture’s local foods directory, focusing on small and family-owned operations and avoiding those practicing larger-scale organic production in which farms win a label by adhering to minimally-required organic standards. So far they’ve signed up enough farms to serve about a third of the country’s zip codes with truly fresh, local shipments, and hope to achieve national coverage within a season or two. Customers outside of a locally-served range can select certain non-local seasonal produce and less fragile foods like grains, cheese, jam, and meats.

You might wonder, “Why buy from a national, online retailer if it’s coming from my own zip code?”
Farmers and consumers both enjoy the sense of community and connection found at farmers markets, but too many small growers are lacking nearby consumer options while others are spread too thinly by the explosive growth of outlets in their regions. For the farmers, marketing their wares, trucking produce in and out, and staffing the booths is an expensive, gas-guzzling, time-consuming process; shipping through an intermediary can actually be more profitable. Online shopping can also be a cost-effective choice for consumers. Obviously it’s a time saver, and shipping is at most a few dollars and nearly always free.

An online farmers market is also surprisingly green.
It’s true that a huge, fuel-burning truck will be bringing the produce to you, but a giant retailer like Overstock is probably already cruising your block, bringing a set of deeply-discounted 480-thread count sheets to someone in the neighborhood. The incremental energy consumption and emissions created by one more shopping order and one more delivery stop added to the route is less significant than if you get into your own car and make the drive to the market. A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Green Design Institute found that an online purchase with home delivery can save 35 percent in energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions over a traditional market outing.

Online shopping can never take the place of stroll around the outdoor stalls of fresh produce on a sunny day.
But it can be a source of fresh, seasonal, and local produce. It can sustain local food systems and keep consumer spending in local economies. And it just might open up the marketplace to provide the opportunities and support that small farmers need to survive in today’s globalized economy.

 

Posted in agriculture, food business, shopping | 1 Comment

When Life Gives You Lemons… The Snow Edition

 

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via ReBloggy

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Terroir of the Shopping Mall Food Court

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Alaskan food court favorite Hot Dog on a Stick

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Actually, Grandma Isn’t All That Good a Cook

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                              [grandmothers and their cooking- images via Gabriele Galimberti]

 

According to a CNN/Eatocracy poll, Grandma’s cooking is pretty hit-or-miss.
21.5% report ‘wonderful’ food coming out of both of their grandmothers’ kitchens, but most rate at least one of their grandmas in the range of ‘decent’ to ‘yuck.’

Does it even matter?
Nonna, Bubbe, Grammy, Abuela– Grandmother in every language is synonymous with warm and squishy feelings. It’s associated with the soft focussed nostalgia of childhood celebrations, family gatherings, and traditional dishes. So what if Grandma over-cooks and under-salts everything?

Grandma probably doesn’t know from whole grains, goat cheese, and fresh ginger. She started cooking when lettuce meant iceberg, the best coffee came ground in a can, and yogurt was strictly for health nuts. But she also wasn’t cooking with mono- and diglycerides, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, modified food starch, and the multitude of flavorings, preservatives, and texturizers found in today’s food. We call it ‘whole food’ when we cook without processed and refined ingredients; grandmothers just call it food.

Scientists theorize that feeding grandchildren has essentially transformed human evolution.
The grandmother hypothesis looks at the role of grandmothers in the early history of our species. It says that healthy, long-lived grandmothers helped feed their grandchildren, freeing their daughters to produce more children at shorter intervals. This meant that grandmothers with the greatest longevity ended up feeding the most grandchildren. Those descendants, who also carried the longevity gene, went on to enrich the gene pool of our ancestors. Recent simulations run by the Anthropology Department at the University of Utah suggest that 60,000 years of Grandma’s cooking has added 20 years to our lifespans.

With In Her Kitchen, the Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti celebrates the breadth of grandmothers’ cooking. He visited 58 countries, documenting family matriarchs and their traditional meals in a multitude of cultures and contexts. Each is photographed with a symmetrical arrangement of ingredients paired with a second image of the completed dish. Click through the images for a brief biography of each woman as well as recipes for each dish.

All those proud grandmas in their kitchens; you can’t help but smile. Who cares if any of them can really cook?!

 

 

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The Surprising Names Behind the Brands You Trust

 

 

The average American supermarket carries nearly 40,000 products.
It sounds like myriad options until you realize that most of them—estimates run as high as 90%—come from fewer than a dozen companies. Acquisitions and consolidation have left us with Unilever-Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, ConAgra-Hebrew National kosher salami, and PepsiCo-Sabra hummus, and all but 15 of the nation’s organic food processors are in the hands of multinational giants.

The melding of brands matters.
When you buy Sweet Leaf organic tea you’re a customer of a company that funds initiatives to block GMO labeling; the parent company of your Morningstar Farms veggie patties is party to the mass destruction of rain forests. Stealth ownership of brands means that your carefully spent grocery dollars are ending up in the hands of the top 10 food and beverage producers who together emit more greenhouse gases than Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway combined. If you care about poverty and hunger, child labor, living wages, women’s rights, and climate change, then you should care about who really owns the brands that are lining the shelves of your supermarket.

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign rates the social and environmental policies of the world’s largest food and beverage companies. The top 10 companies are megacorporations whose products are sold virtually everywhere on the planet. Millions of people, most in poor countries, rely on them for employment in agriculture and production. Their policies and business practices shape national economies and influence lifestyles for billions of global citizens. Oxfam evaluates the companies according to seven criteria: corporate transparency, women’s rights, labor practices, farming practices, land use, water use, and pollution. While some companies are doing better than others, overall it’s a fairly bleak portrait of the food system.

Oxfam’s campaign highlights the massive reach and global influence wielded by just 10 companies. If these industry leaders can be prodded to use their power responsibly, they could play a major role in the world-wide fight against hunger, poverty, inequality, and climate change.

Posted in food business, food knowledge, shopping | Leave a comment

Makers and Hackers: Here’s Your Refrigerator

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Posted in appliances + gadgets, diversions, home | Leave a comment

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

fingerscrossed

 

 

Posted in diversions, holidays, New Years | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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Give Just 18 Minutes to Our Most Critical Food Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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And You Thought Tofurkey was as Weird as Thanksgiving Could Get

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A Device that Distills Coca-Cola into Clean Drinking Water

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Why Feminists have Demonized Michael Pollan

 

image via Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers

image via Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers

 

Food is, without a doubt, a feminist issue.
Of course it’s inherently a human issue, but women have uniquely complicated—too often tortured, even—relationships with food. And now the DIY ethos is adding a new wrinkle to the gendered dynamics of mealtime.

Women, especially young women in their 20’s and 30’s, are embracing a new kind of domesticity. The 21st century preoccupations of backyard chicken-keeping, artisan food businesses, and grassroots food activism are dominated by female practitioners. While men still rule in professional kitchens making up 93% of executive chefs, women spend three times as many hours in home kitchens as the men in their lives, making 93% of food purchases and cooking 78% of dinners.

Feminists versus Femivores
This new breed of crack homemakers is disparagingly labeled as femivores. They’re seen as opting out of feminist causes to focus on canning local peaches and raising gluten-free children. These are the passionate, educated, progressive-minded women who, in an earlier era, would have been marching on Washington and pushing against the glass ceiling at work. Instead, they’re organizing cookie swaps and campaigning to legalize raw milk.

Michael Pollan is the feminists’ whipping boy.
The publication of Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma is considered a turning point for feminism. A manifesto for the new age of homesteading, it’s the touchstone for new domestics, giving social legitimacy to tomato-canning, bread-baking, and stay-at-home motherhood. Since the burden of homemaking has, for time immemorial, fallen to women, feminists charge Pollan with giving rise to a new form of enforced domesticity that’s as insidious and as detrimental to the economic lives of women as the social constructs of the 1950’s.

Is Michael Pollan a Sexist Pigas a Salon headline asked, or is it the more nuanced Femivore’s Dilemma, put forth by The New York Times? The debate rages on in the femisphere. 
Here are some of the best blogs that explore food politics through a feminist lens: 
The Feminist Kitchen
The F Words (food & feminism)
Sistah Vegan
New Domesticity

 

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Madison Avenue Makes Way for a Girl


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The Morton Salt Girl beat back the Keebler Elf, the Energizer Bunny, Mr. Clean, and the Jolly Green Giant to take her place among the most celebrated icons of advertising.
They were all vying to be this year’s inductee to the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame. The winner was announced in conjunction with Advertising Week, the industry’s annual, New York-based celebration of ads and agencies.

The Morton Salt Girl was the odds-on favorite in this year’s contest.
The umbrella-toting miss is celebrating her hundredth anniversary this year and she wasn’t shy about playing the nostalgia card for publicity. She teamed up with another century-old icon for the double centennial celebration of Morton Salt Girl Day at Wrigley Field, and has been strutting her stuff from coast to coast for 100 Parties.100 Cities.100 Days

Little Salt Girl; big social media maven.
A few years ago the Walk of Fame selection process shifted from the advertising community to a public vote, landing squarely in the Morton Salt Girl’s wheelhouse. Her classic pose was endlessly repinned on Pinterest pages and copied for an Instagram look-alike competition. Her timeless yet constantly evolving image was profiled in a sentimental YouTube documentary.  And she furiously worked to get out the vote on Facebook and Twitter, imploring her fans with the campaign slogan Make it rain! Make it pour! Vote Morton Salt Girl and raise her score! The elf, the bunny, and the bald man didn’t stand a chance.

The Morton Salt Girl broke through the glass ceiling to join her male counterparts on the Walk of Fame.
Just one other woman has made it—the weirdly enthusiastic Flo of Progressive Insurance got the nod in 2012. Certainly nobody expected to see a young girl rise from the old boys’ network of the food sector, with its long list of male inductees that includes esteemed heavyweights like Mr. Peanut, Colonel Sanders, Orville Redenbacher, Tony the Tiger, Juan Valdez, and the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

The Morton Salt Girl (and yes, that is her only name) has increased brand awareness, generated revenue, and withstood the test of time. Now she’ll have a permanent place on New York’s sidewalks. You can visit her along with the other iconic figures of branding at the Advertising Walk of Fame on Madison Avenue between 42nd and 50th Street.

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Covert Coffee: The CIA Starbucks and More

ultra top secret mug available at Zazzle.com

ultra top secret mug available at Zazzle.com

 

The Washington Post spilled the beans on National Coffee Day with a profile of a Starbucks that’s secreted away within the CIA’s Langley, Virginia headquarters.
You won’t find it on the coffee company’s store locator and your GPS will come up empty. It’s known simply as Store Number 1, or familiarly as the Stealthy Starbucks.

The Post reports that it looks like every other Starbucks with its framed coffee posters and comfy armchairs. It sells the same lattés and iced lemon poundcake as every other Starbucks, and the same soft rock soundtrack floats in the background. It’s one of the busiest locations in the chain—nobody’s popping in and out of the highly secured facility to pick up something at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Security prevails at Store Number 1.
Noses aren’t buried in Facebook feeds since personal cellphones are a security risk. Rewards cards are also out since the data could be leaked. And even though baristas go through extensive background checks and are sworn to secrecy (they can only say I work for Starbucks in a federal building), they can’t ask for their customers’ names.

Of course it’s unlikely that a barista could really blow a secret agent’s cover.
Starbucks’ name butchery is legendary: the cashier scrawls it on a cup, the barista calls it out, and with figures crossed you go to pick up a beverage that might or might not be yours. It’s as if your name went a few rounds with AutoCorrect: Amanda becomes Tammy, Andrew becomes Stanley, and God help you if your name is Gaelic in origin, has more than two syllables, or rhymes with any part of the female anatomy.

Starbucks also operates a handful of covert cafés in New York City.
While many university campuses, hospitals, and office buildings have Starbucks outlets that aren’t technically open to the public, most won’t exactly refuse a paying customer. There a a few locked-down exceptions like the Starbucks in the New York Stock Exchange and one that serves the regional offices of MI6. CIA-level clearances are fitting for cafés that rub up against national security interests and sensitive global markets. But some of the tightest security and most limited access—even the Washington Post couldn’t talk their way into this one—is found at 1740 Broadway, where the Starbucks serves the New York headquarters of Victoria’s Secret.

 

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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

Plenty of Giga-Bites at Supper Clubs for Tech Luminaries

 

secret handshake (members only)  via Pragmatic Obots Unite

secret handshake (members only) via Pragmatic Obots Unite

 

The tech elite meet to eat at power supper clubs.
Last week’s inaugural gathering of the Silicon Alley Supper Club drew tech influencers from the New York offices of Google, CNN, Studio Industries, Facebook, Buzzfeed, Mashable, Kottke.org, It’s On Me, Krux, Food + Tech Connect, Tech Cocktail, ThriveMenu, and Blue Apron. It joins the ecommerce-oriented CEO Supper Club and the ultra-exclusive outings held by the west coast’s Silicon Valley Supper Club.

They’re the latest in a long line of exclusive and often secret societies favored by each era’s masters of the universe.
From Freemasons and Opus Dei to college fraternities and the TED conferences, like-minded individuals of similar calibre have always gathered for social discourse, mentorship, philanthropy, or to conduct their business in darkened back rooms and exert a mysterious influence on our culture. In the case of the tech leaders’ supper clubs, they also gather to eat.

Think Skull and Bones without the ivy, or Bilderberg without the conspiracy theories.
These are tech events without an online presence. There are no Facebook pages for these clubs. You can’t make your reservations through Open Table and you won’t find mentions in the attendees’ Twitter feeds. Most hush-hush of the new-school supper clubs is the Silicon Valley group. It’s a who’s who of Palo Alto’s power elite where Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Apple SVP Jony Ive, PayPal cofounder Max Levchin, LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, and SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg have all been seated around a single table. These should be headline-making assemblages, and they’ve been holding them about once a month for years, yet there’s no social media trail.

The new supper clubs are unique among secret societies in their singular devotion to good eating.
There’s synergy and symmetry between food and technology. They’re the twin cultural pillars of the New York and Bay Area communities where so many startups are incubate. They’re the twin preoccupations of today’s diverse and well-educated workforce, and the signature perk of employment in the tech sector.
Even Alice Waters tweets.

The supper clubs have convened in venues both posh and homey.
Food met technology at The Silicon Alley kickoff where Los Angeles and New York chefs collaborated on a dumpling and crudo event held in the offices of
  The Daily Meal, and the Silicon Valley group has gathered in a parking lot filled with food trucks, had drinks in the dugout and dinner in the locker room of AT&T Park, and trekked up to Wine Country for a blowout dinner at The French Laundry. 

You can grumble about the elitism of the supper clubs, or envy their privileged access to prized tables and chefs, but these are our leaders, visionaries, and innovators. They should be eating well. 

 

 

 

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