Nearing Thanksgiving, Our Sexiest Smelling Holiday


image via Sensing Architecture

image via Sensing Architecture


Food might be the way to a man’s heart, but the smell of food aims a little lower.

Research performed at the Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago discovered that certain food smells are like olfactory Viagra, significantly increasing blood flow to the penis for men and to the vagina for women.

Thanksgiving—the sexiest holiday?
Men are easy, pretty much turned on by all food smells, but pumpkin pie is special. In combination with other foods, the smell of pumpkin pie increases penile blood flow by 40%.

Top scents for men:
pumpkin pie (especially with a lavender chaser)
black licorice with doughnuts
pumpkin pie with doughnuts
Pizza, buttered popcorn, and cinnamon buns round out the list of top turn-ons. Cranberry and chocolate were the least favored, with response rates as low as 2%.
Wouldn’t you know it?
The female sexual response is not so simple. While pretty much any food scent is arousing to men, women are more discriminating, turned on by some and turned off by others.
Top scents for women:
Good & Plenty candy combined with cucumber
Good & Plenty candy with banana bread
Pumpkin pie, coffee, vanilla, and grilled meats also do the trick for women.
Mood killers
While men have little to no response to less-favored fragrances, women actually have negative responses, exhibiting a reduced flow of blood to the genitals. Turn-offs for women include cherries and barbecue, except for the ladies of Atlanta and Houston who are inexplicably stimulated by these scents.
Love is in the air. You just need to sniff it out.


Posted in diversions, Thanksgiving | 1 Comment

7 Geeky Gadgets Where Pizza Meets Technology


It’s a well-known fact: computer geeks love pizza.
In the technology business it’s said that if you need more productivity from your software development staff, you just hand out free t shirts and buy them pizza.
Why pizza? Because it’s delivered at all hours. Because it can be eaten with one hand while the other’s on the keyboard. And because it allows developers to make nerdy puns about pi and pie.

When pizza meets technology.
This is what happens when twin passions collide:


Dip Hop lets you play pizza toppings like a keyboard. It uses the very cool Makey Makey invention kit to convince your computer that the toppings are piano keys. The pizza sauces conduct a tiny bit of electricity; dip a slice into the sauce and you make a connection—and music. 

Domino’s, well-known for its commitment to speedy delivery, is testing a pizza delivery helicopter drone it calls the Domicopter.  The lightweight aircraft is eco-friendly, never gets stuck in traffic, and there’s no driver to tip.



Pizza Compass is just what it sounds like.
The app’s pizza slice is a directional pointer to nearby pizzerias. It  provides maps, opening hours, and links to reviews.



pizzamagnetLots of pizzerias hand out refrigerator magnets, but only Red Tomato’s is bluetooth-enabled. It’s preset for your favorite pizza; just press the pie to place an order. Alas, you need to be within delivery range, and Red Tomato is located in Dubai.



Pizza Hut passed on the refrigerator magnets and made an app for the XBox game consoleYou can place your order with the game controller, voice input, or Kinect gestures. After all, who’s really standing around the refrigerator until after the pizza arrives and they’re grabbing a soda?



dominostrackerDomino’s piloted a webcam program that lets you see your pizza as it’s being made. They haven’t rolled it out in all the locations, but you can still monitor your pizza’s virtual progress with the Pizza Tracker app.


NASA is making plans for the first pizza dinner in space with the construction of a 3D food printer for the International Space Station. ‘Ink’ nozzles print layers of liquid pizza dough, tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings, and the whole thing bakes on the printer’s heated surface. Until Domino’s and Pizza Hut can colonize space, it’ll have to do.

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

Playing for the Vegan Team in the NFL

image via Zazzle


It’s not easy being green in the NFL.
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster is the latest pro-football player to find out. He joins a small but growing list of NFL vegetarians and vegans that includes Tennessee Titans guard Deuce Lutui, Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Cowboys fullback Tony Fiammetta, and Detroit Lions running back Montell Owens.

Players eat about 6,000 protein-dense calories a day to meet the physical demands of the game. Traditionally they load up on steak and eggs, burgers and shakes, and a heavy dose of fast food on road trips. It can be done with a diet of greens, beans, grains, and nuts, but it takes real commitment. They need to consume around twice the normal amount of protein to rebuild muscles undone by football. But once an athlete cracks the code of seitan and soy-based protein powders, there are real advantages to a plant-based diet. According to the Centers for Disease Control, NFL linemen have a 52 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than the general population. The high fiber plus a load of antioxidant vitamins and minerals from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can boost blood and oxygen flow for improved heart health. This also makes plant-based foods superior to meat when it comes to repairing torn muscles and tendons, speeding up the recovery from training stress and injuries. And the complex carbohydrates in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables can help with intensity and endurance on the playing field because they convert into fuel quicker and with fewer demands on the body than meat.

The bigger challenge is the pushback—hostility even—from teammates, fans, coaches, and the media when players bump up against the gridiron gospel of brute power, vitality, and virility.

Real men are supposed to eat meat.
It’s a cultural cliché that just won’t die: those who eschew animal-sourced foods are, if not exactly girlie, compromised as manly men. A meatless regimen is seen as mild and anemic, and worst of all, it speaks of compassion. Vegans are tagged as sensitive souls—cuddling bunnies, awash in emotionalism; not exactly the qualities of a fearsome tackler.

No poster child for a compassionate diet.
Still, vegetarians in the NFL go a long way toward dispelling stereotypes. A bulked-up physique speaks of the robust healthfulness of the vegan diet. Even a brutish reputation is a myth-busting rebuke to the old stigma of the vegetarian as gentle tree-hugger.

Football fans can go cruelty-free too: see PETA’s list of the Top 5 Vegetarian-Friendly NFL Stadiums.

Check out The Protein Myth explained by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to learn more about athletic performance and plant-based diets.



Posted in diversions, vegetarian | Leave a comment

The Food Network is History, Tastemade is the Future



Matlock. Murder She Wrote. The Food Network.
The Food Network has gotten old. The shows are stale, the hosts have overstayed their welcome, and the audience is sliding into middle age.
Along comes Tastemade.
It’s a multi-channel network on YouTube that’s not just aiming to host the next generation of food shows. Tastemade wants to be the future of programming for the modern media age. It’s instantly global, social, and available anytime, anywhere. See the difference?

One year-old Tastemade is not just any old startup but is already a force to be reckoned with.
Tastemade creates original programming but the bulk of its content comes from networked partner channels. It has assembled a network of more than 100 food channels seen in over 200 countries and across multiple networks and devices. It’s got serious money behind it as well as the backing of serious players from technology and media, including early investors in TiVo and Netflix. There’s also a wildly popular app that storyboards users through the making and uploading of their own one-minute mini food shows. It takes just a few minutes and nothing more than an iPhone or iPod to create a restaurant review or cooking demo that’s shared with a global audience.

If you’re much older than a millennial you might not get it.
It sounds like a lot of unpolished content to slog through when you could just tune into a little Rachael Ray or Chopped on TV, but Tastemade speaks to an overall shift in viewing patterns. YouTube is the dominant go-to website for a generation raised on visual computing, even routinely used for content searches in the same way that older audiences rely on Google. But younger generations are still hooked on the traditional format of episodic television entertainment, and they look for more than the random aggregation of the YouTube universe. Tastemade finds the viewing sweet spot with a combination of TV-length, serialized shows plus digital media creation and discovery.

The Food Network was launched twenty years ago and it immediately won us over with a roster of talented chefs and cooks who entertained us by sharing their knowledge and passion for food. In recent seasons the real cooking has taken a backseat to inane competitions, product placements, dumbed-down instruction, and loutish celebrity hosts. 
Tastemade’s multi-channel platform is squarely aimed at a new, global generation of food lovers, but the fresh, truly food-centric content belongs in everyone’s future.

Posted in cyberculture, diversions, Entertainment | 2 Comments

Hormel SPAM vs. E-mail Spam


image via Happy Trails Computer Club

image via Happy Trails Computer Club


SPAM: a gelatinous block of porky luncheon meat.
Spam: a steady e-mail assault of erectile dysfunction ads, entreaties from Nigerian princes, and replica watch offers.
It’s hard to imagine a brand surviving this kind of association, but Hormel SPAM is doing just fine, thank you very much, not just surviving but thriving.

Hormel used to be awfully touchy on the subject.
In the mid 1990’s they watched their once-proud brand become synonymous with a detestable digital menace. They cried foul, suing a chunk of Silicone Valley for trademark infringement. A Hormel spokesman explained the company’s position with a statement on their website: “We are trying to avoid the day when the consuming public asks, ‘why would Hormel Foods name its product after junk e-mail?’

In 2001 their worst fears were realized.
That’s the year that ‘spam’ made it into the Oxford English Dictionary— not as a luncheon meat but as “The practice of sending irrelevant, inappropriate, or unsolicited postings or e-mails over the Internet, esp. indiscriminately and in very large numbers. Still, after years of legal debate, the judges of the Trademark Board came down on the side of the tech companies. They ruled that the brand wasn’t truly damaged because no one confuses the internet application with a canned meat product.

For all of Hormel’s anguish, SPAM remains unmarred by the negative association.
Born in the Great Depression, SPAM is an emblematic food in America’s hard-times pantry. It’s so closely linked with vagaries of the economy that it’s been suggested that the Federal Reserve Bank should track SPAM sales as an economic benchmark. After a sluggish stretch, SPAM roared back during our current downturn and has been posting record sales and profits for the last five years.

SPAM has finally made peace with the internet.
Last year the brand introduced Sir Can-A-Lot, an animated spokescharacter with his own YouTube channel. He’s a little tin can of a knight who’s on a crusade to rescue your meals by infusing them with some pink processed meat. SPAM also has a presence on all the usual social media sites, and more than 3,000 ill-advised recipes on its redesigned website.


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Restaurant Ratings or Restaurant Rankings– How Do You Choose?



Who’s 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 the World’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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Chewing Gum: The Nasty Habit That’s Good for You




Etiquette experts will frown but the evidence is indisputable: you should chew gum.

It makes you smarter.
A study out of the Baylor College of Medicine shows a 3% increase in standardized math scores from students who chewed gum during homework and exams.

Eat more healthfully.
According to a report in the medical journal Appetite, gum chewers snack less and have fewer cravings for unhealthy foods.

Improve your digestion.
Chew just before or after you eat. It helps your body create more saliva and build up the acid in your stomach, which gives your digestive system a boost. Since stomach acid levels decline with age, beginning by about age 40, this can be especially beneficial for older adults.

Fight heartburn.
While gum increases stomach acids, it can actually lower acid levels in the mouth and esophagus. Chewing gum after a meal can help reduce acid reflux and heartburn symptoms and may aid in preventing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Stay sharp.
The journal Brain and Cognition suggests that chewing gum can increase blood flow to the brain and improve cognitive performance. Brain scans show gum-related activity in eight areas of the brain, and test subjects demonstrated improved alertness and motor skill reaction times that were up to 10 per cent faster than non-chewers.

Your dentists wants you to.
Sugarless gum can prevent cavities. It can neutralize plaque, whiten teeth, and even strengthen them by remineralizing tooth enamel. The American Dental Association suggests a 20 minute chew after meals to prevent tooth decay.

Unless you suffer from a jaw ailment or certain other health conditions, chewing gum can be good for you in so many ways. For the best results, stick with ADA-approved chewing gum.

Of course there’s a time and place for everything.
The Modern Manners Guy clarifies the new gum-chewing etiquette.

Posted in candy, diversions, Health | Leave a comment

Yogurt is the New Man Food



Are you man enough for yogurt?
Forget about those too-small single serving containers with their soupy pablum lurking beneath a flimsy cap of tinfoil. Yogurt is being repositioned as sustenance for a manly man, with portions and packaging to match.

Powerful Yogurt, which was naturally dubbed ‘brogurt’ by the media, comes in a hefty half-pound serving. The sturdy carton has the utilitarian font and black and red color scheme of a bodybuilder’s tub of creatine, and the advertising is full of jacked and shirtless guys hoisting spoons past their bulging obliques. Ladies, you need to cast your mascaraed eyes elsewhere in the dairy aisle.

For all their progress, men still yield to the tyranny of gender stereotypes.
They’ve taken over shopping duties—a 2011 Yahoo survey in 2011 found that 51% of 18 to 64 year old men now call themselves the primary shoppers for their households—but are much more susceptible than women are to gender-driven food messaging. A study from Northwestern University demonstrated that taste and appetite prevail when a quick, 10 second decision is made; men will freely choose ‘girlie’ foods like yogurt, rice pilaf, white wine, and fish. But give them time to consider the choice, and the weight of early socialization combined with years of gender messaging from the evil geniuses of Madison Avenue takes over and it’s all about meat and potatoes, beer and pretzels. By contrast, women overwhelmingly choose feminine options and stick with them.

Better sex through yogurt?
Powerful Yogurt seems aimed at men who fear feminization through dairy products. Ironically, yogurt might play a positive role in male sexual function. Researchers at MIT reported on the phenomenon of mouse swagger–the distinctly showier gait of mice who’ve been fed a yogurt diet. Their coats were denser and shinier and their testicles were larger than those of the control mice. They also inseminated their partners faster and produced larger litters. Findings were similar when human subjects were studied in followup research performed at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

It’s a complicated business, eating.
The enduring gender lines are as resolutely retrograde as Beef Wellington. Men are no longer seen as hapless dolts who walk into a supermarket with a list and walk out with little more than chips, bacon, and beer. Yes, they’re buying yogurt, but just as one stereotype falls, another rises to take its place.


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Sustainable Farming at its Finest: Pigs Fed on Marijuana Crop Left-Overs

image via BB Ranch

image via BB Ranch


The news made for catchy headlines:

A New Take on Grass-Fed Meat
Pigs Living the ‘High’ Life
‘Pot’ Belly Pigs
‘High’ on the Hog

It’s healthy, organic, and local.
That’s why the owner of Seattle area’s Bucking Boar Farm feeds cast off marijuana stems, stalks, and leaves to his pigs.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it. Washington State legalized recreational marijuana last year, and crop residue is regularly turned into animal feed. Carrots might be damaged at harvesting or a field of cantaloupes could ripen too quickly. Pigs, which we’ll kindly call ‘versatile omnivores,’ will take it all.

Of course a pig’s diet leaves its mark on the meat. Think of some of the world’s greatest pork products. Prosciutto di Parma is famously flavored by a diet of whey from the local parmesan cheese-making, and Spanish jamón Ibérico de bellota is all about the foraged acorn diet of the Iberian pigs. As for the cannabis diet, Bucking Boar customers rave about the rosy color, beautiful marbling, and a subtle flavor infusion that is especially pronounced in the fat.

The real question on everyone’s mind is Does it get you high?
The answer is no. It’s a tougher call to make for the pigs since they already spend their days lazing about and stuffing themselves on feed. The weed-fed pigs do seem to put on weight faster; the ranch reports a 20% gain over pig that are fed a conventional diet.

It’s cooperative, sustainable farming, and a lot healthier than eating pigs that are stuffed with GMO grains.

The pork is available at the ranch’s own butcher shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. You’ll know it by the little marijuana leaf flags stuck in with toothpicks.

Posted in diversions, funny, sustainability | Leave a comment

Wine + Coca Cola = Quelle Horreur!



Coca-Cola Bottle Cap Wine Bottle Stopper via WillowbendCottage Etsy Store

Coca-Cola Bottle Cap Wine Bottle Stopper via Willowbend Cottage Etsy Store


So much for that famous French snobbery.
The ungodly combination of red wine and cola is this summer’s newly popular refreshment. Hausmann Famille, a branch of the French winemaker Châteaux en Bordeaux, has introduced Rouge Sucette—which translates as Red Lollipop—a blend of 75% wine with 25% sugar, water, and cola.

Wine consumption is in a free fall.
Wine was always served with dinner. For generations of French drinkers it was a daily occurrence, the norm for a majority of French citizens. Today the number of daily wine drinkers has fallen to 17%, with 38% reporting that they never drink wine at all.

Wine and Coke is nothing new.
In Argentina it’s known as Jesus juice; South Africans call it katemba; Croatians mix bambus; and in Chile the combination is known as jote. It’s most widely drunk in Spain where it’s a sort of unofficial symbol of Basque culture. It’s believed to have originated there as a cheap method for making rough, local wines more palatable.

To the French, the mixture’s history just serves to compound the indignity.
The country is fighting an uphill battle to preserve its culinary heritage. Earlier this spring the government imposed a ketchup ban on all French school cafeterias, fearing that the nation’s distinguished cuisine is being buried—literally and metaphorically—under a flood of foreign influences. And now wine flavored with sugar and cola has captivated a younger generation’s sweet tooth while masking the true nature of their vaunted varietals.

None for me, thanks, but if you feel the need…
Don’t bother looking for Rouge Sucette on these shores. It retails in France for barely three euros a bottle; hardly worth shipping, especially when we have plenty of our own liters of Coke and Two Buck Chuck.

A better idea is to order yourself a Spodee and Sody, a red wine and Coca-Cola cocktail based on Spodee, the latest of the hip spirits from the makers of trendy Hendricks Gin and Sailor Jerry rum. On its own, Spodee is a rather tasty and strongly fortified concoction of wine, cocoa, and some kind of moonshine liquor. The mix of grape and chocolate flavors end up tasting a little like Raisinets, but with a 36 proof kick.


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

The Trader Joe’s Magic




It doesn’t work for everyone.
Trader Joe’s store locations are second-rate and their parking lots are impossibly small. The aisles are cramped, there are so many missing product categories you’ll never knock off a whole shopping list, and the lines at the register rival July 4th at Disneyland. It should all add up to the retail equivalent of waterboarding, but instead, the population of admirers continues to swell.

Trader Joe’s has figured out how to take its many shortcomings and weave them into its mystique.
There’s just one brand of olives and one box size of polenta, but customers will bet that if Trader Joe’s picked them, those olives must be fabulous and it’s the best damn polenta out there. Employees are scruffy, laid-back, and Hawaiian-shirted, but also customer-friendly, always out on the floor to answer questions, and quick to open a package to give you a sample. Beloved products spontaneously disappear from store shelves, but they’re replaced with new and offbeat culinary discoveries that are often a half-step ahead of our palates (anyone for adzuki bean chips and dried green mango?). Instead of a chore, shopping at Trader Joe’s is a cultural experience.

Trader Joe’s carries around 4,000 products, compared to the typical grocery store’s 50,000. It’s a mix of foodie-friendly staples, like cage-free eggs and extra virgin olive oil, plus affordable luxury and exotic items, like frozen truffled ricotta pizza and Moroccan tagine sauce. This is not inexpensive food, but the offerings are unique and the prices are often the lowest in town. If this is not how you shop, cook, and eat, you just won’t get it.

To make sure its customers get it, the company looks at demographics like education levels and cooking magazine subscriptions to divine its next store locations. And they sure do get it: Trader Joe’s has average store sales of  $1,750 per square foot—that’s double the sales per square foot of Whole Foods and triple the amount of a typical conventional supermarket. For Trader Joe’s, it adds up to $8 billion in annual sales.

The genius of Trader Joe’s is its marriage of cult appeal and scale. It doesn’t just masquerade as a neighborhood store with its bad clip art and folksy hand-lettered signs; it is a neighborhood store, with a tight customer focus and an ability to curate each store’s offerings to suit local tastes.

With 471 stores and counting, individual store oversight is less manageable, and a buying error can cost the company millions. Let’s hope as Trader Joe’s grows, it can hang on to the quirks and surprises that make it a special place to shop. Although no one will complain if they expand their parking lots.

If you do nothing else today, be sure to watch this video. If I Made a Commercial for Trader Joe’s is one man’s unauthorized tribute. It’s a complete, warts-and-all portrait; a love song celebrating the customers, employees, and eclectic merchandise of his favorite store. And it’s charming and very funny.

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

The Cereal Puffing Gun that Puts the Crunch in the Cap’n




Meet the puffing gun.

It’s a whirling, steaming 3,200-pound machine that explosively puffs up and pumps out breakfast cereal. It’s a real showstopper, which must be why the fledgling Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) has chosen it as the centerpiece of its inaugural exhibit.

Early cereals really were puffed in guns.
Cereal puffing dates back to the emergence of industrial food production at the turn of the 20th century. The process was perfected using old Army cannons including some that had seen action in the Spanish American War. The Quaker Oats Company gave its new cereal a splashy public introduction at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis where eight bronze cannons cooked rice puffs and shot them over the watching crowds.

Popping the unpoppable.
Cereal makers have always looked at popcorn as the gold standard of puffs- simultaneously light, airy, crispy, and crunchy, while retaining the integrity of the corn itself. It gets that way because a kernel of corn consists of a hard shell surrounding a starchy center. When it’s heated the moisture in the corn turns to steam; contained inside the shell, the steam pressure builds and inflates the starch until eventually the puffed up kernel bursts through.

Grains like wheat and rice don’t have outer shells to trap steam so the pressure has to come from outside the kernels. A puffing gun builds up steam pressure inside a cooker (or cannon) filled with whole grains. When the vessel’s hatch is flung open, the sudden change in air pressure puffs the kernels on contact and shoots them out of the opening with an explosive rush of steam and a giant “kaboom!”

Later this summer the MOFAD folks will take a functioning puffing gun to parks, schools, and street locations around New York. BOOM! The Puffing Gun and the Rise of Breakfast Cereal will explain the science behind cereal production and how Americans came to eat nearly three billion boxes of cereal every year.

Boom! is just the beginning.
The Museum of Food and Drink is in a pre-startup mode with unpaid staff members and a touring flatbed trailer in lieu of a bricks and mortar location. It’s an ambitious project that aims to do for food what the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum has done for aviation and space travel. To get there, MOFAD has stocked its board with talent and stature, including food world luminaries Mario Batali, Harold McGee, David Chang, Slow Food USA founder Patrick Martins, and modernist cooking pioneer Dave Arnold of the International Culinary Center.

Food has environmental, historical, economic, socio-cultural, industrial, and scientific dimensions; it touches all of our lives and presents some of the most challenging issues of our time. Yet there’s no American music singularly devoted to the subject. You can learn about the MOFAD mission to remedy the situation and contribute to that mission through the BOOM! project on Kickstarter.


Posted in diversions, food knowledge, gadgets | 1 Comment

French Foodie Flash Mob Turns 25


Diner en Blanc, Notre Dame, Paris 2012

Diner en Blanc, Notre Dame, Paris 2012  via Diner en Blanc International


Wikipedia traces the origins of the flash mob to 2003 when 130 New Yorkers synchronized a visit to Macy’s ninth floor rug department. 
Apparently they’ve never heard of the Parisian pop-up Dîner en Blanc.

For 25 years thousands of Parisians have dressed entirely in white, packed a picnic dinner, and converged on the city’s most notable public locations: Notre Dame, Versailles, the Louvre, Place de la Concorde, Champs-Elysees, Arc d’Triomphe. The location is always a closely guarded secret kept by organizers until the very last minute when guests literally walk onto the site and start setting up tables and chairs, white tablecloths, glasses, and place settings—no paper or plastic allowed.

Dîner en Blanc (Dinner in White) began in Paris in 1988 as a reunion of old friends. 10 of them met for a picnic dinner in the Bois de Boulogne, a large public park, and they all agreed to wear white so that they could spot each other. The next year the original group of friends invited friends, and those friends invited more friends; 400 white-clad picnickers showed up in 1989 and 800 in 1990. They switched venues and adopted the current method of concealed locations in 1992, but the numbers continued to escalate. In 2010, 12,000 showed up for Dîner en Blanc at the Louvre, filling the space from the I.M. Pei pyramid to the Tuileries.

The Paris dîners have evolved to accommodate the crowds. Events are now split between multiple dates and venues, transportation is arranged, seating coordinators manage the tables and crowds, and there are bands and DJs reflecting the presence of the next generation of picnickers. But every one of the thousands of attendees still comes dressed in white and toting a formal meal with proper cutlery. And every one of them is an invited guest that can be traced to one of the original 10; they are friends of friends, and friends of those friends, and their kids, and their kids’ friends… no one gets on the list without an invitation from a previous participant. There is tacit approval of city officials, but a Parisian Dîner en Blanc is a private affair, discreetly under the radar of most residents.

Dîner en Blanc has come to America.
Asia, Africa, Australia, and across Europe too. The international effort is spearheaded by the son of one of the original reunion picnickers who works with local organizers to hold events around the globe. The international dîners are public events, coordinated with municipal authorities and openly publicized on Facebook and Twitter. Locations are still a secret, but they can be attended by anyone who signs up online and pays a facilities fee of around $30. A second round of dinners is in the works for this summer in Chicago and Boston; New York will see its third (the waiting list for the last one contained 30,000 names), and nine more U.S. host cities have been targeted for future events.

Sign up for a dinner near you at the Dîner en Blanc website.
If they’re not coming your way any time soon, go see the movie. Dîner en Blanc: the World’s Largest Dinner Party is a new documentary film about the evolution and orchestration of the dinners and it’s currently making the rounds of film festivals. The filmmaker’s Facebook page posts updates of the screening schedule.


Diner en Blanc, Lincoln Center, New York 2012 via Diner en Blanc International


Posted in diversions, travel | 4 Comments

Extreme Restaurant Promotions


Senior discounts, student discounts, kids eat free—we’ve seen it all before.
It takes something special for a restaurant to cut through the clutter of a crowded marketplace. Here are some of the more inspired, buzzworthy, and just plain wacky restaurant promotions.

Casa Sanchez’s Jimmy the Cornman

Melt grilled cheese logo

Melt grilled cheese logo

Earn your discount with a restaurant logo tattoo. It seems awfully extreme, to say nothing of permanent, especially considering that the average lifespan of a restaurant is just five years. But there are plenty of takers, even when it’s just a measly 25% off. Somehow that was enough to convince a few hundred customers to get inked for Melt Bar and Grilledan Ohio grilled cheese emporium. San Francisco’s Casa Sanchez ups the offer to free lunch every day for the rest of your life; no guarantees, but it’s been in business since 1924. Of course for the duration you’ll have Jimmy the Cornman flying across your skin on a corn cob rocket.

Shirley Temple, c. 1933

Shirley Temple, c. 1933

Let’s just say that kids aren’t always the greatest dining companions (Of course we’re not talking about your darlings). They’re even banned from certain restaurants and during certain hours. Not at Washington State’s Sogno Di Vino which offers a ‘well-behaved kids’ discount. Alas, there is no penalty for noisy tantrums.


Then there’s the ‘well-behaved adults’ discount. Plenty of restaurants discourage or even ban cell phone use in their dining rooms. LA’s Eva Restaurant goes a step further offering a discount to customers who check their cell phones at the door. About half of Eva’s customers take them up on it.


They do things a little differently down south. On the 20th of each month Jackson, Mississippi restaurants welcome diversity. They call it Two & Two Restaurant Days, and a 20%
discount is given to any diner who eats with someone of another race. No word yet on the other days.3027-virginia-welcomes-you-sign_1

Virginians love the Second Amendment and they celebrate their right to bear arms in restaurants with special discounts for gun-toting diners. Events like Concealed Carry Wednesday and Fire Power Happy Hour have been a real shot in the arm for restaurateurs throughout the state.



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Dining Chez Vatican with Pope Francis I


  [Pope Francis I commemorative plates via Zazzle]





The new pope has been shaking things up in Rome.
He’s a famously austere man who’s been chosen for a life of pomp, pageantry, gold hats, and tricked out Popemobiles. But that’s just not him. His eating habits make that abundantly clear.

The newly-minted Pope Francis I set the tone in his first official hours. After the papal election he headed back to the conclave housing for a communal meal with the cardinals, despite the fact that the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera depicted the conclave meals (rather unkindly to the nuns from the Sistine Chapel who did the cooking) as “similar to fare served in hospitals.” The paper also reported that all of the other cardinals described the food as “rather forgettable compared to the menus at the restaurants in nearby Rome.” On Vatican moving day, the Pope passed on the grand papal residence on the top floor of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace in favour of a simple, kitchenless two room apartment from which he’ll take his meals in a communal dining room with all the other Vatican residents.

In the kitchen with Francis and Benedict.
Pope Francis stepped into the red shoes of a predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who had made very different dining choices. Benedict not only resided in a palatial papal penthouse apartment, he redid the kitchen with marble countertops and new appliances. Benedict swapped out the Polish nuns who cooked for John Paul II and brought in his own kitchen crew including a pastry chef to satisfy his notorious weakness for tiramisu, strudels, and tarts.

The moderation of Pope Francis distinguishes him from a long line of epicurean popes.
Gelasius I introduced the crepe to France and Clement VI put the “Pape” in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The personal chef to Paul II wrote a cookbook that was the first ever printed on a press, and Pius IV predated TV’s Iron Chef by about 400 years when he orchestrated Vatican food challenges like a 24-course all-veal meal, another with salted fish in every dish, and an entire dinner made of only butter, cheese, and eggs.

Pope Francis is the church’s first Jesuit pontiff, a Catholic order with its own set of dining traditions and table manners. The Jesuits believe that the soul shouldn’t be overly focused on meals because indulgences at the table are a path to other temptations and an abandonment of self control. Meals need to be simple to keep the eater from imagining other sensual delights. The tradition instructs eaters to fill up on bread to avoid the ‘disorder’ that comes from being tempted by other foods.

He’s divinely chosen but still, a pope’s gotta eat. The blog Catholic Cuisine has recipes for every day of the liturgical year including an homage to the cuisine of the pope’s homeland of Argentina.


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Cookbooks: Where to View the Reviews


Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe print cookbook is indomitable.
The post office, the music industry, network television—all decimated by the internet. And book publishing? Forget about it. Cookbook sales are one of the few bright spots. Take the 50 Shades trilogy off the bestseller list and you’re basically left with titles from celebrity chefs, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and the latest from Gwyneth Paltrow.

Cookbooks are evolving in ever more interesting ways.
They’ve learned to transcend their function. It’s no longer enough to be a vessel for instruction and recipes. The internet’s got a lock on that. Cookbook authors are experimenting beyond the traditional narrative structure of a recipe collection organized into categories like ‘Soups,’ ‘Main Dishes,’ and ‘Bar Cookies.’ They’re dazzling us with new visual formats and finding their literary voices.

Not that we don’t still need the internet.
By the time you finish reading this another independent bookstore will probably have bitten the dust, and national chain stores just don’t cut it when you want to do some heavy browsing. I’m talking about the old-fashioned kind of book browsing, well beyond the glossy, the popular, and the predictable titles; the kind of browsing that takes you on a journey of discovery, deep into the category where things get interesting.

There are a handful of places to go online for thoughtful, knowledgable reviews that look beyond the bestseller list. If you love cookbooks, you’ll want to bookmark some of these:

If I hadn’t found Cookbooks We Love, I would have never been introduced to Pork and Sons. Part cookbook, part travel guide, with a family scrapbook and great piggy pics thrown into the mix, Pork and Sons’ author comes from a long line of French pig farmers and butchers, and recipes are scattered throughout a very personal tale of small town life in his family’s home village. It’s the kind of obscure gem of a cookbook that we never know to look for but are thrilled to stumble across.

Food porn meets book reviews at CookBookKarma. It starts with extensive, professional reviewing, and I do mean extensive–the 100+ reviews from this past month included an all-gummi candy cookbook and recipes for midwives. Readers then try out recipes from reviewed titles and submit photos of the results along with their own reviews and other commentary.

The cook behind Cook that Book is not a professional chef. She is a home cook preparing family meals in a home kitchen. She tries recipes from old and new cookbooks and writes her reviews based on the nuts and bolts of index navigability, clarity and detail of instructions, and ultimately the overall appeal and success of the dish. Judging a cookbook on the cooking—how novel is that?!

Sadly we bid farewell this week to The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf. The review site, a collaboration between a small, international team of contributors, had a commendable five year run covering a wide range of global titles on food, wine, and gastronomy. The editors were knowledgable, their taste was quirky and eclectic, and there’s nothing else quite like it out there. Check out their parting lineup of reviews and you’ll see what I mean.


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The Italian Bank that Lends Cash for Cheese


cheese vault via Credito Emiliano


It must be one of those ‘only in Italy’ things.

Here in the U.S. when you take out a car loan the bank keeps the pink slip as collateral; get a mortgage, and it holds on to the deed to your house. Italy’s Credito Emiliano accepts cheese as collateral for loans and to cover interest payments, and locks it away in bank vaults until the loan is repaid.

Of course it’s not just any cheese. The bank only takes Parmigiano Reggiano.
Parmigiano Reggiano is king in a country where cheese is revered, and where the cheese making arts are refined with unique varieties that represent every region, city, town, nook, and cranny of the country. It’s one of Italy’s biggest exports, but the industry remains resolutely artisinal. The cheese is made with infinite care by hundreds of small producers who adhere to labor intensive, centuries-old techniques. It’s also a time-consuming process, and that’s where the bank comes in.

Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano is aged for two years. A lot of money is tied up in each wheel which contains 550 liters of milk, and this can create cash flow problems for small cheese makers who need to keep buying milk and paying their employees. Credito Emiliano takes the unaged cheese as collateral and provides financing to keep production going. Producers can get 80% of the value of their cheese, and if they default on the loan the bank can sell the cheese and still make a profit.

Credito Emiliano is one of Italy’s largest banks with hundreds of branches and thousands of employees. It’s pretty much like any other bank—except for the cheese vaults and some unusual job descriptions. Bank employees oversee the aging process, turning the 80-pound wheels a few times a week, and a former branch manager wields a little metal hammer and periodically taps each cheese listening for hollow sounds indicating that the wheel has cracks or voids or is a dud that’s gone soft.

Credito Emiliano treats cheese like other banks do gold.
For good reason: the bank holds about 400,000 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano each with a street value of nearly $1,000. High-tech electronic door locks, motion sensors, security cameras, and armed guards stand watch over the vaults, but that hasn’t deterred bank robbers who’ve targeted them three times over the years. The most recent theft took place in 2009 when the robbers dug a tunnel beneath one of the vaults and made off with 570 cheese wheels.

Like gold, with serial numbers that identify each metal bar, every wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano carries an ID code that indicates the dairy source and production date, and when they reach the one year mark, the outer rinds of the partially-aged cheeses are indelibly branded with the EU classification, each with its own registration number. Of course every Italian knows the difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and ordinary Parmesan, and even on the black market the thieves had to prove the authenticity of the stolen cheese. Ultimately, the registration numbers were traced back to the bank and the robbers were apprehended.

Once the cheese was safely back in the vault, no one was more relieved than Mr. Bizarri, the former Credito Emilian branch manager who now brandishes a cheese hammer. He spoke for all of us when he said:  “Thank heavens we caught the robbers before they grated it.”



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Stay Hydrated. Drink Beer Cocktails.


beerbottle martini glass


Forget everything you’ve been told about mixing your alcohol.
You should drink beer with cocktails. In fact you should drink beer in your cocktails.
Beer cocktails have been popping up with greater frequency for a few years, and this summer, as warmer temperatures settle in, they’ve really taken off.

There’s nothing new about beer sharing a glass with spirits and mixers.
Visitors to Mexico are familiar with the Michelada (and its regional Chelada variations) which is beer mixed with lemon or lime juice, salt, Worcestershire and hot sauces. Germans have the Gose mit Kümmellikör with a shot of spiced Kümmel liqueur in a glass of beer. The Shandy, popular in the U.K., covers a lot of territory combining beer in equal parts with ginger ale, lemonade, cider, or just another type of beer, like a stout and ale Black and Tan. And of course the U.S. has the Boilermaker, a long-time staple of working-class bars combining beer with a shot of whiskey.

What’s new is the craft.
The twin movements of craft beer and craft cocktails have given new life to beer cocktails. Today’s drinkers crave quality and variety. They’re always on the lookout for new ingredients and flavors, and the craft brewing and distilling industries are happy to oblige. Innovative mixologists are finding new ways to use them, creating original cocktails from high-quality spirits, house-made syrups, spices, fresh squeezed fruit juices, and craft-made beer with plenty of character.

Canny flavor combinations or abominable crimes against beer?
Purists argue that beer is already a perfectly crafted cocktail of barley, hops, yeast, and water. They see no gain in plonking more booze and fussy mixers into a well-made brew. Mixologists counter resistance by arguing that well-chosen additions will complement rather than disguise a beer’s flavor. The more complex the beer, the more avenues of taste opportunities it offers: a touch of citrus will cut through the heaviness of a pale ale; a light and sweet wheat beer is balanced by the bite of Vermouth or Campari; and the botanicals in gin can accentuate the lightly-hoppy nuances of a lager.

Cocktail traditionalists also balk at tampering.
Any addition to spirits, even ice or a splash of water, is sacrilege to a certain type of aficionado. Beer cocktails are probably not for them, and indeed none of us should be messing with a 21 year-old Macallan. But there are plenty of spirits that will benefit from beer in the same way that any well-chosen mixer can transform them into a cocktail that’s greater than the sum of its parts. A splash of beer will add effervescence without watering down a cocktail like club soda or sweetening it like ginger ale; the malt and yeast can cut the sugar in fruity drinks and stand up to the spice in pepper-spiked cocktails. When well-matched, even the beer-averse can appreciate the finishing touch of flavor and complexity.

An open mind and palate can pay off with some intriguing flavors.
Bartenders love experimenting with beer’s endless array of tastes and styles, and drinkers appreciate the novelty as well as the larger glasses and thirst-quenching power it brings to mixed drinks. The union is not for everyone, but you’re going to be seeing a lot of beer in cocktails this summer.

Buzzfeed shares 26 Drinks That Prove Mixing Beer Is A Great Idea .

Just don’t test out any of those 26 drinks in Nebraska, the only state where it’s illegal to serve cocktails that combine liquor and beer. The law is a holdover from Prohibition when Nebraskans were known to spike their legal, non-alcoholic beer with liquor.





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Online Auctions Make Fantasy Dinner Parties a Reality


Pop Culture lats Supper via Adara Tiana

Pop Culture Last Supper via Adara Tiana


Last Supper with Dead Rock Stars by Misha Tyutunik

Last Supper with Dead Rock Stars by Misha Tyutunik


Physicists Last Supper by Nick Farrantello

Physicists Last Supper by Nick Farrantello


Who’s on your fantasy dinner party guest list?

We’ve all played the parlor game: if you could invite anyone, living or dead, who would have at your dinner table?
As you go around the room and name your names, there are some predictable results. Jesus, the President, Steve Jobs, John Lennon, Einstein, or the Dalai Lama will make someone’s list. Maybe Warren Buffet would show up (who wouldn’t want some investment advice?), Gandhi (more meat for the rest of us), and Martin Luther King Jr. to say grace. So will someone’s sixth grade teacher and a great grandpa who died in a war. The rest of the table would probably be filled out with intellectuals and sex symbols, favorite writers, athletes, and Hollywood stars.

Online celebrity auction sites can pretty much fill your dream table, and the proceeds generally go to charity.
Currently you can arrange to have lunch with Gloria Steinem, cast members of the Big Bang Theory or The Simpsons, or with Francis Ford Coppola at the winery he owns in Napa Valley. You can dine with the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, have cocktails with Quincy Jones, or go to tea with primatologist Jane Goodall

Most of the sites operate with a standard auction model with the spoils awarded to the highest bidder. Omaze has a more raffle-like, and more democratic, process collecting thousands of small donations, usually under $10, and choosing the winner in a random lottery. The auctions donate from 80-100% of the proceeds to charitable organizations, usually chosen by the celebrities.

The hottest date right now—and it’s not even dinner but just for coffee—is with Apple’s CEO Tim Cook. The auction was first posted in April offering a cup of Joe and an hour of Mr. Cook’s time with an estimated value of $50,000. It reached $190,000 in the first day, and has since skyrocketed to $605,000 (placed by an anonymous bidder known only as J********n) with four days to go.

Check out Charity Buzz, EBay Celebrity, Hollywood Charity AuctionCharity Folks, and Omaze where you’ll see ongoing auctions for all kinds of social engagements with sports figures, politicians, artists, rappers, technology wizards, business leaders, and plenty of Hollywood stars. For the right price, or sometimes just a little luck, you can fill the dinner table of your dreams.






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Vine: The New Food Porn


You’re looking at clips from Vine, Twitter’s 6-second looping video app that’s the latest social media phenomenon.

A lot can happen in 6 seconds.
There’s a widely held belief in internet marketing circles that you have less than 10 seconds to make an impression—hook ’em fast or they’ve already moved on to the next site. Vine gives its creators 6 seconds of sound and video to amuse and entertain, share some knowledge, or tell a simple story. The brevity hobbles some and inspires others; you can end up with a frenetic unwatchable mess or a mini-masterpiece. Worst case, it’s still only 6 seconds.

Porn, lol cats, and food— the usual suspects take up residence.
Vine is a quick and dirty app that makes it incredibly easy to record brief video clips and share them on social networks. Within days of its launch, the porn hordes had jumped right in. Go figure. Pornographic video clips threatened to dominate the early content mix, nearly derailing Vine’s release, as they did with close cousin Chatroulette. Twitter and Vine’s guidelines don’t exclude pornography, but it does violate Apple’s terms of service for the App Store, and when a particularly nasty clip was featured as an ‘Editor’s Pick’ in the Vine app, Apple pulled the product from the App Store’s virtual shelves. Twitter quickly raised the minimum age limit to download the Vine app from 12 to 17; it shot to the top of the free app charts and has has stayed there ever since.

Vine has all the hallmarks of a lasting social media outlet. It’s easy to use and easy to unleash the results on Twitter and Facebook. The early flowering of porn has taken a backseat to the mainstream mainstays of bloopers, sports highlights, celebrity postings, the antics of cats and babies, teenaged girls showing off the contents of their closets, and food. Lots of food. There’s so much food porn on Vine that it’s been disparaged by some as ‘Chefroulette.’ Home cooks are showing off their knife skills, recipe sites are adding how-to segments, and the still-life of a dinner plate has given way to a video of clip of a meal’s progression of courses.

Vine’s video creation options are ON and OFF. You touch the screen to shoot and scroll to play. The app takes the raw footage and ambient sound, stitches together sequential shots, and loops them back on themselves. Its extreme limitations are seen as a challenge to unlock the creative potential of the 6-second snippet, and Vine has given rise to a new art form of imaginative visual arrangements, laugh-out-loud sight gags, and especially jaw-dropping stop-motion food animations that take advantage of Vine’s one and only, but surprising powerful, tool—the on-off switch.

There are lots of ways to explore Vine– even without the app:
Vinepeek is a live stream of un-moderated, newly-posted Vines. You’ve been warned.
All Around the Vines streams live but can be sorted by the hashtag #food.
Vinesmap shows geotagged Vines and plots them on a world map.
Vineroulette loads a full-screen collage of dozens of videos, sortable by subject.
VinesZap loads a preview grid of nine Vines. Click on what looks good.
Vinecatsbecause sometimes you need a break from all the food Vines.


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