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kottke.org posts about food

Polluted Water Popsicles

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2020

Polluted Water Popsicles

Three art students, Hung I-chen, Guo Yi-hui, and Cheng Yu-ti, collected polluted water from all over Taiwan and turned them into popsicles.

Hung and her teammates visited 100 locations across Taiwan to collect waste. They then placed the samples — complete with dirt, bugs, and trash — into a freezer, turning them into popsicles. In order to preserve them, they encased the popsicles in a polyester resin.

Hung tells Quartz she hopes the project will raise awareness about water pollution. Her team chose to use popsicles as a motif because they are translucent and because popsicles typically look appealing to the eye. “Such pretty popsicles, would you still want to eat them?” she asks.

The same group did a similar polluted soap project for Hong Kong. (thx, naomi)

Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA & Good Humor Partner to Create a New Ice Cream Truck Jingle

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2020

Ice cream maker Good Humor has teamed up with legendary rapper/musician RZA to produce a new ice cream truck jingle to replace the ubiquitous “Turkey in the Straw”, a tune that gained popularity as a minstrel song with racist lyrics.

“Turkey in the Straw” is one of the most iconic ice cream truck jingles today. However, many people don’t realize that this familiar tune has racist roots.

Turkey in the Straw’s melody originated from British and Irish folk songs, which had no racial connotations. But the song itself was first performed (and gained popularity) in American minstrel shows in the 1800s. Some songs using its same melody contained highly offensive, racist lyrics.

Throughout the 19th century, minstrel songs like Turkey in the Straw were commonly played in ice cream parlors, and later, adapted as ice cream truck jingles.

While these associations of “Turkey in the Straw” are not the only part of its legacy, it is undeniable that this melody conjures memories of its racist iterations.

RZA explains the story behind the new jingle:

And from a press release:

To create an original jingle, The RZA drew inspiration from his own childhood memories of chasing after the ice cream truck in his neighborhood. The track borrows from traditional ice cream truck music and adds jazz and hip-hop elements. Expect trap drumbeats, some old-school bells that reference Good Humor’s original ice cream trucks, and a distinct RZA hook that you will not be able to get out of your head.

Here’s the full jingle:

Song of the Summer 2020? I could totally see Drake or whoever sampling this for an end-of-the-summer ice cream anthem.

Miles Davis’s Famous Chili Recipe

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2020

Jazz legend Miles Davis? That dude could cook. He could cook in the studio, on stage, and in the kitchen. One of his favorite dishes to make was a chili recipe he concocted through practice and improvisation: Miles’s South Side Chicago Chili Mack. Here’s the ingredients list:

1/4 lb. suet (beef fat)
1 large onion
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground veal
1/2 lb. ground pork
salt and pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin seed
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1 can beef consommé
1 drop red wine vinegar
3 lb. spaghetti
parmesan cheese
oyster crackers
Heineken beer

You’ll have to click through for the instructions (as well as another of Davis’s chili recipes) but I will reveal that the last step is “Open a Heineken.”

See also the hamburger recipes of Dean Martin (minimalist), Frank Sinatra (even more minimalist), and Ernest Hemingway (surprisingly maximalist). (via @tedgioia)

Watch Popcorn Popping in Super Slow Motion (100,000 fps)

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2020

Popped popcorn kernels are like snowflakes: no two are alike. If you watch popcorn popping at the ludicrously slow speed of 100,000 fps, you can see these individualized forms flowering into existence. Pro tip: turn off the upbeat music on the video and supply a mellower soundtrack of your own — slow motion video requires meditative music.

See also How to Make Popcorn Using a Blow Torch & Hair Dryer. (via moss & fog)

A Long Walk Along Japan’s Historic Nakasendo Highway to Eat Pizza Toast

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2020

Kissa By Kissa

Kissa By Kissa

Last year, Craig Mod walked 620 miles from Tokyo to Kyoto along the Nakasendō historic highway and along the way he stopped at kissaten (or kissa), old-school Japanese cafes known for their pizza toast. Mod wrote about his quest late last year for Eater and has now turned a fuller account of the journey into a gorgeous book called Kissa By Kissa.

Those kissaten — or kissa — served up toast. I ate that toast. So. Much. Toast. Much of it pizza toast. If you buy this book, you’ll learn more than you ever dared to know about this variety of toast available all across Japan. It’s a classic post-war food staple. Kissa by kissa, and slice by thick slice of beautiful, white toast, I took a heckuva affecting and long walk. This book is my sharing with you, of that walk, the people I met along the way, and the food I ate.

Even more interesting is that to sell the book, Mod built a Kickstarter clone on top of Shopify called Craigstarter. And he’s released the code for it on Github.

Kickstarter is an excellent way to run a crowdfunding campaign. But if you already have a community built up, and have communication channels in place (via a newsletter, for example), and already run an online shop, then Kickstarter can be unnecessarily cumbersome. Kickstarter’s 10% fee is also quite hefty. By leaning on Shopify’s flexible Liquid templating system and reasonable CC processing fees, an independent publisher running a campaign can save some ~$7,000 for every $100,000 of sales by using Craigstarter instead of Kickstarter. That’s materially meaningful, especially in the world of books.

You can order Kissa By Kissa right here.

The Death of Rice

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2020

Oh god, I needed this video in my life this morning. Watch as Uncle Roger (a character created by comedian Nigel Ng) hilariously critiques a BBC Food video about how to cook fried rice. Spoiler alert: the cook drains the rice in a colander and then rinses it with water. Oh, and no MSG.

If you sad in life, use MSG. If you happy in life, use MSG. Put MSG in everything, it’ll turn it better. You just get a baby? Put MSG on baby, it’ll be better baby, smarter.

On Instagram, Uncle Roger shared how to cook rice properly.

Uncle Roger have many white friend tell me they use saucepan. Saucepan? Haiyaaa. World War II is over, use technology. Proper Asian use rice cooker.

(via @jennyyangtv <— this thread is an entertaining read as well)

Update: Uncle Roger meets up with the woman who cooked the egg fried rice in the BBC video:

No Dining Out Right Now

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2020

Eater food critic Ryan Sutton, who had Covid-19 back in March, isn’t dining out at restaurants right now and explains why.

What’s more is that local health regulations for dining out aren’t strong enough. Before every shift, restaurants have to screen employees with health based questions, but temperature checks aren’t mandatory for either staffers or employees. And even though patrons are encouraged to wear masks at tables while they’re not actively eating or drinking, few really do. Even if no one dies or is sent to intensive care under these conditions, the notion of being in a place where underpaid staffers are financially compelled to interact with unscreened and unprotected patrons seeking leisure is unacceptable to me on a very basic human level.

I miss dining out so SO much. I miss my friends in the industry and am furious that federal and state governments have pushed them back into unsafe working conditions in the idiotic & dangerous race to “open up the economy” before any reasonable system of test/trace/isolate + a mask mandate is put into place nationwide. But I haven’t been in a restaurant since early March and will not return to one, outside dining or no, until the pandemic is over.1 I’ve been ordering takeout as much as I can (and heavily tipping) to support local businesses that are operating safely. But the whole concept of dining out seems very irresponsible to me and should not even be an option right now.

  1. If “over” actually has any meaning in the context of the pandemic. I keep saying “when this is over” and hearing others say it, but I have no idea what it means. Whatever “this” eventually is, I’m not sure it has an end, happy or otherwise.

Zuck the Butcher

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2020

In an opinion piece for the NY Times, Kara Swisher argues that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg “cannot hold on to such enormous power and avoid responsibility when things get tough”. She uses an analogy about a butcher shop to explain the problem at the heart of Facebook:

This week, I finally settled on a simpler comparison: Think about Facebook as a seller of meat products.

Most of the meat is produced by others, and some of the cuts are delicious and uncontaminated. But tainted meat — say, Trump steaks — also gets out the door in ever increasing amounts and without regulatory oversight.

The argument from the head butcher is this: People should be free to eat rotten hamburger, even if it wreaks havoc on their gastrointestinal tract, and the seller of the meat should not be the one to tell them which meat is good and which is bad (even though the butcher can tell in most cases).

Basically, the message is that you should find the truth through vomiting and — so sorry — maybe even death.

She goes on to say:

In this, Mr. Zuckerberg is serving up a rancid meal that he says he’s not comfortable cooking himself, even as his hands control every aspect of the operation.

What’s particularly interesting about this analogy (and Swisher is possibly referencing this between the lines here) is that in 2011, Zuckerberg’s “annual challenge” was only eating meat from animals that he had personally killed.

This year, my personal challenge is around being thankful for the food I have to eat. I think many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat, so my goal revolves around not letting myself forget that and being thankful for what I have. This year I’ve basically become a vegetarian since the only meat I’m eating is from animals I’ve killed myself.

This project later led to a meme-worthy video of him smoking meat in his backyard and Zuckerberg inviting fellow tech CEO Jack Dorsey over to feast on a goat he’d raised and killed.

Dorsey said he and Zuckerberg waited around 30 minutes for the goat to cook in the oven. Afterward, Zuckerberg believed the meal was ready and the two sat together to eat.

“We go in the dining room. He puts the goat down. It was cold,” said Dorsey in Rolling Stone. “That was memorable. I don’t know if it went back in the oven. I just ate my salad.”

Surreal. If all this were from the screenplay of a proposed The Social Network sequel, there’s no way this movie gets greenlit. (via daring fireball)

Pandemic Creativity: Edible Versions of Famous Artworks

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2020

Claire Salvo Food Portraits

Claire Salvo Food Portraits

Claire Salvo Food Portraits

In yet another example of how the constraints of the pandemic are fostering creativity, LA-based artist Claire Salvo is creating edible versions of notable artworks and posting the results to Instagram. Says Salvo of her new pursuit:

i make art using a bunch of media, but one sleepless night a few weeks ago, i thought i’d try playing with food. these pieces make me laugh while i’m creating them, and i’m really enjoying the response from everyone watching the process. thanks for all the kind feedback.

i’ve spent nearly 30 years honing my drawing skills, and approximately 1 week pushing banana peels and lentils around a canvas. but i’m learning to #trusttheprocess because #art.

I think the Dali portrait is my favorite, closely followed by the Lichtenstein. And you know I love this: Girl with a Pea Earring.

See also Famous Art Recreated at Home During the Pandemic. (via jenni leder)

This Japanese Man Paints a Picture of Every Meal He Eats

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2020

Itsuo Kobayashi

Itsuo Kobayashi

Itsuo Kobayashi

For 32 years, Itsuo Kobayashi has been painting top-down pictures of the meals he eats. The paintings are accompanied by descriptions of each meal. Kobayashi worked as a chef for years until he suffered an illness that left his movement impaired, causing him to double-down on his art.

The Official Recipe for Ikea Meatballs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2020

Ikea Meatballs Recipe

On Twitter the other day, Ikea UK shared the official recipe for their iconic meatballs and cream sauce,— in the form of Ikea instructions naturally. As a midwesterner of partial Swedish heritage, this sort of thing is right up my alley.

It’s kind of amazing that society has collectively decided to give up all its secrets and control in the face of the pandemic — museums putting their collections online, filmmakers streaming their movies for free, people indiscriminately sending each other nudes, bands putting live performances on YouTube for free, and now this Ikea meatballs thing. The world has turned upside down. (via why is this interesting?)

How to Shop Safely in a Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2020

Note: Please check the updates below for some important corrections to some of the information in this video.

From Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen MD, a video on how to ensure that your grocery shopping experience is as safe as possible and to avoid potential COVID-19 infection from plastic and metal surfaces. I’m going to be honest with you: a lot of this seems like overkill (as it should — see the Paradox of Preparation). However, this is also pretty much what I’ve been doing after grocery shopping for the past 2 weeks because I am a fastidious motherfucker1 with plenty of time to wipe down groceries. If it comes down to a choice between watching 7 more minutes of The Mandalorian or wiping down my groceries before putting them in the fridge, I’m gonna wipe them groceries. Baby Yoda can wait.

See also this PDF from Crumpton Group about how to keep your household free of the outside effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Household members should understand that their principal effort should be directed towards isolating the inside of the home from the pandemic effects outside. All physical thresholds of the home will serve as a cordon sanitaire. Strive to decontaminate everyone and everything to the best practical degree before entering.

Many of Dr. VanWingen’s recommendations mirror those in the PDF. See also expert guidance on COVID-19 and food safety. (thx, meg)

Update: I have not had a chance to read it yet (was attending to some other things this evening — family, trying to have some normalcy), but I’ve been told that this thread is a good response to the video above. I’ll have a closer look at it tomorrow.

Update: Ok, I’ve read Don Schaffner’s thread criticizing this video. At least I think this is the video he’s referring to because he never says it outright — which I’ll get to in a minute. (Schaffner is a professor in the food science department at Rutgers who I linked to the other day in my post on COVID-19 and food safety.) As he notes, there are a couple of factual errors and VanWingen does offer some dubious advice, particularly about washing food with soap (which I didn’t take seriously). I do not believe, however, that VanWingen was suggesting that people leave frozen items and perishables in a warm garage for 3 days and that the normal rules of food safety are somehow countermanded by potential coronavirus contamination. If you want to leave that box of Cheerios that you don’t need in the car for 3 days, go right ahead. He definitely should have been clearer on that point though.

But the bulk of VanWingen’s video was about how to handle your groceries and takeout food coming into your house to minimize the chance of infection. (And as I mentioned, much of it mirrors the advice in this document and in Dr. Michael Lin’s document from a couple of weeks ago — this isn’t just his opinon or my opinion.) If we are to take seriously a) the assumption that anyone could have COVID-19 (including yourself & grocery workers) that we are operating under w/r/t to handwashing & keeping a 6-foot distance, b) the preliminary results that suggest that SARS-CoV-2 can last on some surfaces for days, and c) that person-to-surface-to-person transfer of SARS-CoV-2 might result in infection (i.e. the reason we are doing all this handwashing and face not-touching), then we should be disinfecting surfaces that other people have been touching recently. Right? We should assume that all surfaces are contaminated. This doesn’t seem outlandish, especially when grocery stores are restocking shelves continuously — that bag of chips that you put into your cart may have been placed on the shelf only 30 minutes before. How is disinfecting your Oreos package when you get home from the store a bad idea? Sure, wash your hands before you eat, but if you have kids, you know how futile that can be sometimes, especially when Oreos are involved. So why not just clean the package? Ditto with transferring takeout food to new containers and giving it a blast in the microwave to warm it up.

Schaffner’s stance is that most surfaces aren’t contaminated to a high degree, which is undoubtably true. Having watched the video & read Schaffner’s advice (and other advice by other experts), where your personal comfort level with making sure the surfaces you and your family come into contact to are disinfected is up to you. Ultimately, advice from experts is still advice and you have to figure out whether it works for you. It’s easy to believe you should wash your hands frequently because that’s universal advice. But “you should disinfect surfaces you touch” and “you don’t have to worry too much about disinfecting your grocery packages” are genuinely conflicting bits of advice from well-meaning experts! You’ve gotta use your noggin and make up your own mind, based on your personal idea of risk and safety. It’s gonna land differently with different people.

Finally, I’m going to get a little cranky here, but I found Schaffner’s overall tone in the first few tweets of that thread mocking, ungenerous, and unhelpful. Instead of gently offering alternative authoritative advice, he subtweeted (by refusing to link to the video and calling Dr. VanWingen not by his name but referring to him as “the video MD”) and made fun of VanWingen’s outfit. I know it must be frustrating to see what you perceive as misinformation out there, but we do not need Doctor vs Doctor battles here. Everyone’s just going to get defensive and dig their heels in. </cranky>

Update: From Joseph Allen of Harvard’s School of Public Health, Don’t panic about shopping, getting delivery or accepting packages.

Yes, the virus can be detected on some surfaces for up to a day, but the reality is that the levels drop off quickly. For example, the article shows that the virus’s half-life on stainless steel and plastic was 5.6 hours and 6.8 hours, respectively. (Half-life is how long it takes the viral concentration to decrease by half, then half of that half, and so on until it’s gone.)

And here’s how to take reasonable precautions when getting a package delivery or going to the grocery store:

You can leave that cardboard package at your door for a few hours - or bring it inside and leave it right inside your door, then wash your hands again. If you’re still concerned there was any virus on the package, you could wipe down the exterior with a disinfectant, or open it outdoors and put the packaging in the recycling can. (Then wash your hands again.)

What about going to the grocery store? The same approach applies.

Shop when you need to (keeping six feet from other customers) and load items into your cart or basket. Keep your hands away from your face while shopping, and wash them as soon as you’re home. Put away your groceries, and then wash your hands again. If you wait even a few hours before using anything you just purchased, most of the virus that was on any package will be significantly reduced. If you need to use something immediately, and want to take extra precautions, wipe the package down with a disinfectant. Last, wash all fruits and vegetables as you normally would.

Important caveat: the coronavirus half-life times are for room temperature. For colder temperatures (like in the fridge or especially the freezer), the virus will last longer. So maybe wipe down that bag of frozen peas even if you’re not going to use them for a couple of days.

  1. Hey, if you don’t know what you should be doing in a certain situation w/r/t to coronavirus, just ask your most detail-oriented friend. You know, the one who shows up to things on time and is usually a fussy pain in your ass. They’ll have a plan all ready to go and will be happy to share it with you because they’ve been waiting YEARS for some shit like this to happen. NOW IS OUR TIME TO SHINE!

Even Waffle House Is Closed for COVID-19

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2020

When America wants to know how bad things are in a crisis, they look not to the President or FEMA, they look to Waffle House.

The “Waffle House Index,” first coined by Federal Emergency Management Agency Director W. Craig Fugate, is based on the extent of operations and service at the restaurant following a storm and indicates how prepared a business is in case of a natural disaster.

For example, if a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green. If it is open but serving from a limited menu, it’s yellow. When the location has been forced to close, the index is red. Because Waffle House is well prepared for disasters, Kouvelis said, it’s rare for the index to hit red. For example, the Joplin, Mo., Waffle House survived the tornado and remained open.

At last count (as of 10:42am on 3/25), 418 Waffle House restaurants across the country were closed, an unprecedented event. The remainder, from what I can gather from social media and news reports, are operating on a carry-out basis only. Kudos to them for doing the right thing in trying to keep their employees and patrons safe.

COVID-19 and Food Safety

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2020

Like many of you, I’ve been wondering about COVID-19 & food safety. Is it safe to eat takeout prepared by your local restaurant? To answer that and many other questions, Kenji Lopez-Alt has compiled a comprehensive guide to food safety and coronavirus for Serious Eats. Kenji is the most fastidious and exacting food person I know — how could you think otherwise after having read The Food Lab? — so I take his thoughts and research on this very seriously.

Even so, plenty of folks — myself included — have been confused or curious about the safety of allowing restaurants to continue preparing and serving food. Is it actually safe? Should I reheat the food when I get it home? Is it better to support local businesses by ordering food, or am I only putting workers and delivery people at risk? And if I’m cooking my own food, what guidelines should I follow?

To answer these questions, I referenced dozens of articles and scientific reports and enlisted the help of Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist from the North Carolina State University and cohost of Risky or Not and Food Safety Talk.

Let’s get right to the nitty gritty:

Q: Can I get COVID-19 from touching or eating contaminated food?

According to multiple health and safety organizations worldwide, including the CDC, the USDA, and the European Food Safety Authority, there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 has spread through food or food packaging. Previous coronavirus epidemics likewise showed no evidence of having been spread through food or packaging.

Be sure to read on for answers to questions like “Are we going to run out of food?” and “Am I more likely to get COVID-19 from take-out, delivery, or cooking at home?”

The FDA has a coronavirus safety page on their website as well.

Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.

In a piece from March 14, Amanda Mull talked with epidemiologist Stephen Morse from Columbia University about food safety:

Even if the person preparing it is sick, he told me via email, “cooked foods are unlikely to be a concern unless they get contaminated after cooking.” He granted that “a salad, if someone sneezes on it, might possibly be some risk,” but as long as the food is handled properly, he said, “there should be very little risk.”

And Don Schaffner, a professor in the food science department at Rutgers, has been posting information on food safety & COVID-19 on Twitter.

Even if a sick worker sneezed on my food (I know that’s gross), my risk of contracting COVID-19 from it are very low.

First it’s important to realize that this is a respiratory illness as far as we know. The biggest risk is being around sick people who are shedding the virus when they sneeze or cough.

Even if the virus did get onto food, we’re going to put that food in our mouth and swallow it so the virus will end up in our stomach. Our stomachs have a low pH which would likely in activate the virus.

Why Do New Diseases Like COVID-19 Appear First in China?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2020

This video from Vox is a few days old but is still a good look at why diseases like SARS and COVID-19 originate in China. It involved the designation of wild animals as “natural resources” by the Chinese government, which caused a large increase in wildlife farming, with many more and different kinds of animals being put into contact with humans and each other on a regular basis. Add illegally trafficked animals into the mix, and you’ve got the right conditions for diseases to jump from the animals to humans. Then potentially infected animals and their meat, accompanied by potentially infected humans who raised those animals and butchered that meat, are then brought to the wet markets for sale to the public.

It’s important to note, as Christopher St. Cavish says in the LA Times, “most wet markets are not wildlife markets, and confusing the two is dangerous”:

“Wet” markets are what China calls its fresh food markets, the kind you see all over the developing world and in many parts of Europe, where small stalls sell fresh vegetables and butchers sell meat, primarily pork. They are the daily market for tens of millions of Chinese who prefer to talk to the people who sell them produce, meat, seafood and tofu, and in small cities, are often the only outlet for small-scale farmers who can’t meet the supplier requirements for supermarkets.

I couldn’t find any up-to-date information on which animal is suspected of passing the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 along to humans, but bats are a prime suspect with a possible pangolin intermediary. (via open culture)

Roxane Gay’s Ode to Baking

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2020

For Wirecutter, Roxane Gay talks about her love of baking and how her KitchenAid stand mixer helps her achieve the consistent results that baking demands.

I’ve always loved baking, the patience and precision it requires, the end result when baking goes well, the lessons learned when it doesn’t. It’s actually quite conducive to writing because it forces you to step away from your work and tend to the baking process at specific intervals. When I am feeling down, when I am stressed, when I want to procrastinate, when I want to nourish people I love, I bake, which is to say I bake a lot.

I found this link via my friend David, who has gotten into baking in a big way over the past couple of years, perfecting his recipes for pizza dough and bread. I got a KitchenAid for Christmas this year, but I haven’t had a chance to use it yet. Maybe this week…

My Trip to Vietnam, Singapore, and Qatar

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2020

The waterfall at Singapore's Changi airport

For three weeks in late January and early February, I travelled to Asia, spending two weeks in Saigon, a few days in Singapore, and about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. Here are some of the things I saw and did and ate. Note: this is a long post, maybe the longest thing I’ve posted here in many years. But I think it’s a quick read — pack a snack, stay hydrated, and you’ll be alright.

Saigon, Vietnam

I flew to Saigon via Doha on Qatar Airways. On my seatback screen, I watched the flight map as we flew a precise path with several course correcting turns that you don’t find in a usual great circle route. We flew over Turkey and Iraq and then out over the Persian Gulf, being very careful not to cross into the airspace of Syria, Iran, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia — an aerial expression of Middle East tensions & alliances.

On my first full day, I arranged to go on a street food tour via motorbike. My guide, a local college student, picked me up at my apartment and, along with another guide & fellow tourist, we ate some bun bo hue (beef noodle soup), banh mì (pork sandwich), bap xao (stir-fried corn), com tam (broken rice w/ pork), drank some tra rau bap (corn silk tea), visited the flower market, and enjoyed a leisurely and engaging chat at a coffee shop. I did a food tour to kick off my time in Mexico City as well and would recommend it as a great way to meet some locals and quickly get the lay of the culinary land, which you can use as a blueprint for the rest of your trip.

Bowl of noodles in Saigon, Vietnam

The food here is off the chain. Street food is generally safe to eat, where all the good stuff is, and a full meal is never more than a few bucks. Some of my favorites were banh mì, bun cha (pork w/ rice noodles), and bo la lot (beef wrapped in lolot leaves).

Before I went, I did a bunch of research on specific places to eat, which turned out to be not so useful because about half of the places I’d flagged had permanently closed. In some cases, not only was the restaurant or food cart gone, whole blocks had been razed to make way for an entirely new buildings. Some of these missing places had just been written about a year or two ago, but the pace of change in Saigon is unimaginably fast. Locals I talked to said it feels like an entirely new city every few years.

Founded by a pair of Japanese expats, Pizza 4P’s makes excellent pizza. The growing chain also makes their own burrata and mozzarella in-house.

Mr. Masuko said he leased an alley-side building in Ho Chi Minh City and invested about $100,000 of his savings into a renovation, kitchen gear and other start-up essentials. He and a Japanese employee, Keinosuke Konuki, taught themselves how to make mozzarella by watching a YouTube video.

I also had one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had at Tomidaya in Little Toyko, a tiny place with only 8 seats at a counter. The shoyu was so good I went back a few days later for tsukemen (which was not quite as good but still very tasty).

Craft beer is growing in popularity in Vietnam and the cocktail scene is well established. The Vietnamese palete tends to run sweeter than in America, so go-to cocktails here used to lean towards the tiki end of the spectrum, but now is more varied. Thanks to my pal Brown, I got to visit the tiny speakeasy tucked away behind a hidden door in The Studio Saigon, where artist/bartender Richie Fawcett served up a couple of delicious drinks, including a barrel-aged whiskey cocktail that he smoked with some Irish peat right in front of us.

The official English name for Vietnam’s largest city is Ho Chi Minh City. But locals still call it Saigon (or Sài Gòn), particularly when referring to the central districts. It’s a bit like how New York or NYC refers just to Manhattan.

The War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes) is a must-visit if you’re in Saigon. It’s an eye-opening look at how the American role in the Vietnam War (which in Vietnam was known as the Resistance War Against America or the American War) was perceived by the Vietnamese. The photographs showing the damage done by Agent Orange and the almost casual brutality against Vietnamese civilians (including women & children) by US soldiers were really hard (but necessary) to look at. John Lennon’s Imagine was playing on a continuous loop in the lobby of the museum.

I ended up being in Vietnam for Tet, the lunar New Year, which in terms of celebratory scale is like Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s all rolled into one holiday that lasts for several days and reverberates for a few weeks. I hadn’t exactly planned on this timing, but having read about the Tet experience on Legal Nomads, I was prepared.

Families celebrating in Saigon on the first day of Tet

Most of the city was shut down for the holiday — the first day of Tet is a day for family and I saw people spilling out into the alleyways, eating and drinking and laughing — but it wasn’t that hard to find dinner or a place to stop for tea. The only time I really felt the Tet crunch was when I needed to buy a new phone (more on that in a bit) but couldn’t because all of the electronics stores were closed. Most of the time, though, I was thankful for the slightly slower pace and festive atmosphere.

Travel tip: find a rooftop bar in whatever city you’re in and pop in for a drink around sunset.

I’m always interested in cities where a particular mode of transportation sets the tone for everything else. In much of the US — particularly in places like LA, Dallas, or Raleigh — the car reigns. In Copenhagen and Amsterdam, it’s the bicycle. You could make the argument that in Manhattan, the dance of the streets revolves around the pedestrian. As a city, Saigon is defined by the motorbike. They overwhelm every other mode of transportation here — cars and pedestrians must tailor their movements to the motorbike swarm.

Because of the motorbikes, the process for crossing the street on foot in Saigon is different than in a lot of other places. You basically just wait for any buses (which will absolutely not stop for pedestrians) or cars to go by and then slowly wade out into traffic. Do not make any sudden movements and for god sake don’t run. The motorbike swarm will magically flow around you. It’s suuuuuper unnerving the first few times you do it, but you soon get used to it because the alternative is never ever getting across the street.

The motorbikes make walking around Saigon absolutely exhausting.1 It’s not just crossing the street. You literally have to be on the lookout for them everywhere. They drive up on the sidewalks. They drive into and out of houses and buildings, turning every doorway into a potential intersection. Having to look both ways every few seconds when you’re walking 6 or 8 miles a day around the city really drains the ol’ attention reserves.

Things I saw carried on motorbikes in Saigon, a non-exhaustive list: trees, dogs, tiny babies, ice (for delivery to a drinks cart, the ice block was not even strapped down), a family of five, a dessert cart, an entire toy store, a dried squid shop, and 8 huge bags of clams.

I spent a worthwhile morning exploring the antique shops on Le Cong Kieu street. Many of the shops carried the same sorts of items, so it got a little repetitive after awhile, but the shops with the more unique items were worth the effort.

The hip coffee shops in Saigon look much the same as those in Portland, Brooklyn, Berlin, or Mexico City.

Office in the basement bunker of the Independence Palace in Saigon

Designed by architect Ngô Viết Thụ, the Independence Palace was the home and office of the South Vietnamese President during the Vietnam War. After the North Vietnamese capture of the building effectively ended the war in 1975, the palace was preserved as a historical site, a time capsule of 60s and 70s architecture and interior design. I spent half a day wandering the palace taking photos like crazy. Lots of Accidentally Wes Anderson material there.

The oranges in Asia are green?

An American expat I met in Saigon said that American veterans who fought in Vietnam are now retiring here, a fact which I found to be a) true and b) deeply weird for a number of reasons. Here’s a recent LA Times article on the phenomenon.

Rapid growth in Vietnam and its Southeast Asian neighbors has created a situation that would have been unthinkable in the past: Aging American boomers are living a lifestyle reminiscent of Florida, Nevada and Arizona, but in Vietnam. Monthly expenses here rarely exceed $2,000, even to live in a large unit like Rockhold’s, including the help of a cook and a cleaner. The neighbors are friendly: A majority of Vietnamese were born well after the war ended in 1975, and Rockhold says he has rarely encountered resentment, even when he talks about his service as a combat veteran.

The vast majority of the owners in his apartment building are members of Vietnam’s burgeoning urban middle class; many work in government or in education, and can afford to take vacations abroad. He estimates that no more than 1 in 5 residents in the 25-floor complex are foreigners.

“The Vietnamese were extremely nice to me, especially compared to my own country after I came back from the war,” Rockhold said at a coffee shop recently inside a polished, air-conditioned office tower that also houses a restaurant and cinema.

Small truck full of flowers, Saigon

And last and certainly least, my phone was stolen while I was in Saigon. I’d really hoped that 2020 was going to be the year that I’d avoid making a blunder that would cost me thousands of dollars, but I’d neglected to pay sufficient attention to this bit in the Legal Nomads piece about Tet:

Unfortunately, the city also enters into what is locally known as “stealing season” — a proliferation of petty crimes like phone and purse theft, with the money used toward paying for these Tet gifts. In the weeks leading up to Tet and shortly thereafter, locals would come up to me on the street mimicking someone making off with my bag, a warning to keep an eye on belongings. Several friends found their phones snatched out of their hands in mid-conversation during this time, though no one had any more significant issues (e.g. there were no violence or armed muggings) to report.

It was the second day of Tet and I had just gotten off a motorbike taxi in front of a cafe in a tony part of town. I pulled out my phone to check on something quickly and was about 2 seconds away from putting it in my pocket and going into the cafe when a guy on a motorbike rode up onto the sidewalk — a totally normal thing here, so I didn’t think anything of it — and snatched my phone right out of my hand. I swore at the guy and ran after him for about two steps before I realized a) he was already halfway down the block and b) no one within earshot spoke English well enough to help me quickly enough to chase the guy down or flag down a police officer. The phone was gone.

Luckily, I had my iPad in my backpack, so I went into the cafe and deactivated the phone with Find My. For about an hour, I stewed and felt violated & pissed that I had been careless. I’ve had mixed experiences with solo travel — it’s hard sometimes! — so some despondency along those lines crept in too. I posted an Instagram Story about the theft (w/ my iPad) and some kind and wise words from my pals Craig and Stewart got me back on the right track. Stewart in particular reminded me that events like this are “the tax we pay on traveling” and that “maybe we don’t pay it every trip, but it comes around eventually”.

So yeah anyway, that shitbird didn’t ruin my trip — although being without a phone (no maps, no rideshare apps, no texting to coordinate meetups, no translation app) for a couple of days definitely restricted my movements for a couple of days until the electronics stores opened after Tet. That dude’s year may have gotten off to an unlucky start by stealing from someone, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let losing some property set the tone for my year or change my affection for this city and its people.

Singapore

Singapore felt like the future, full stop. And it’s not just the incredible waterfall & tropical forest in the airport or the mid-building gardens in the skyscrapers. Energy-saving escalators ran slowly or not at all until human motion was detected. Infrared temperature scanners like this one were set up at the airport to automatically screen disembarking passengers for coronavirus-related fevers. Public transportation was fast, cheap, and ubiquitous — my train ride from the airport to downtown was ~$1.50. I exited the country via Automated Immigration — a machine scans your passport & thumb and you’re good to go. A vending machine made me a cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice, sealed with a thin plastic lid. A Buddhist temple I went to had self-serve offering kiosks. Everything was incredibly clean and just worked the way you thought it should — you could sense the organization and infrastructure behind every little thing. And did I mention the waterfall at the airport?!

Gardens spilling over from a Singapore hi-rise

Coming from Vietnam, the food in Singapore was going to have to clear a high bar. And it did. Unlike in Saigon, where street food sellers filled any and every possible nook and cranny of the streets, sidewalks, and alleyways, always-on-brand Singapore has organized their street food vendors into communal hawker centers. In these centers, you can get the most delicious food from all around the world — Malay, Indian, Chinese, and Singaporean cuisines are among the most popular. I ended up eating almost all my meals at food centers — I visited Maxwell Food Centre, Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Hong Lim Food Centre, and Tekka Centre.

At the Chinatown Complex Food Centre, I waited in line for about 10-15 minutes to try the soya sauce chicken rice dish (just US$2!) at Hawker Chan, the first hawker stall ever to be awarded a Michelin star. This. Dish. Was. Amazing. I have never had chicken that tender & juicy. A revelation.

The Asian Civilizations Museum and the Singapore National Gallery were both great — definitely worth visiting if you’re in town for more than a day or two.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a marvelous place to spend an afternoon wandering around. I particularly enjoyed the rainforest and the specialty gardens: the Evolution Garden, the Fragrant Garden, and the Healing Garden (full of plants with medicinal uses). (While looking at the website just now, I’m irritated to learn that I missed the Bonsai Garden. Dammit!) The National Orchid Garden was spectacularly beautiful — there’s an entry fee of $5 that’s well worth paying.1

The Atlas Bar is notable for its huge Art Deco space and extensive gin library. You can get a gin martini with gin made in the 1910s (~US$180) or have a G&T using one of their 1300 gins from around the world. Bar Stories was much more minimal and intimate with no cocktail menu at all — you just tell the bartender the flavors and spirits you’re into and they whip something up for you. You can check out some of their creations on Instagram.

For my first two nights, I stayed in a pod hotel. I opted for a private room and it was perfect. I had just enough space in my room to sleep and change — I was barely there for more than that as I spent most of my time exploring the city. The bathrooms were clean and private — and the showers were great, better than in many American hotels I’ve stayed in. They could do more to dampen the door noise, but other than that, it was really quiet.

The infinity pool on the 58th floor of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore

For my last night, I splurged on a room at the Marina Bay Sands, aka the hotel with the infinity pool on the 58th floor overlooking the city. Was it worth the price? I don’t know, but the views from the roof were incredible and I did spend a lot of time relaxing by that pool.

Doha, Qatar

Main atrium of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar

On my way home from Singapore, I spent about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. In retrospect, I maybe should have opted for 2 more days in Singapore. Nothing against Doha, but I just didn’t have the energy to fully explore a third different place/culture in 3 weeks. (Still exploring my limitations…) I did have some great food there — including kofte at a Turkish restaurant and a simple fried halloumi sandwich I’m still thinking about more than a week later. The Museum of Islamic Art was fantastic and deepened my already significant appreciation of Islamic art.

Some miscellaneous thoughts and reflections

I met up with some kottke.org readers in both Saigon and Singapore. Thanks to Brown, Bryan, Joel, Corrie, and the Singapore meetup crew for taking me to some local spots with excellent food & drink, helping me understand a little bit more about Vietnamese & Singaporean culture, and making this solo traveller feel a little less solo. A special thanks to Brown for welcoming me into his home and introducing me to his family. After 20+ years of writing this site, it still blows me away how quickly complete strangers who read kottke.org seem like old friends. ♥

I posted several photos to my Instagram and also compiled Stories from Saigon and Singapore.

I got sick on the last day of the trip, which turned into a full-blown cold when I got home. I dutifully wore my mask on the plane and in telling friends & family about how I was feeling, I felt obliged to text “***NOT*** coronavirus, completely different symptoms!!”

Being in Asia during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak was an interesting experience. I wasn’t worried about contracting the virus — I kept my hands clean & sanitized, wasn’t interacting with anyone who had been to China recently, and wore my mask in the airport and on the airplane. By my last few days in Vietnam, the growing epidemic had the government worried, so people who normally wore masks only while riding motorbikes now wore them all the time in public. I observed that foreign tourists were more likely to wear masks than locals. Many businesses adopted a mandatory mask policy in their offices. Buddhist temples posted signs urging visitors to wear masks.

In the airport on my way to Singapore (and on the flight), every single person was wearing a mask, except for one guy who had no mask and a personal fan blowing air (and all the germs in the vicinity) right into his face. When I got to Singapore, way fewer people were wearing masks in the airport — probably only 50% — even though there were more coronavirus cases in Singapore than in Saigon. As I mentioned above, they had infrared scanners set up checking people for fever. At the Marina Bay Sands, all customers checking in had to have a temperature check with a hand-held thermometer — same if you wanted to use the hotel gym. I also got temp-scanned at one of the museums I went to.

This was my 7th long trip in the past two years and my longest one by more than a week. Despite the benefits of solo travel that I really enjoy, I’ve struggled at times with loneliness and getting a bit overwhelmed by having to figure everything out on my own in unfamiliar places. This trip, aside from a couple hours of stolen phone despair, was struggle-free — or rather the struggle was expected, manageable, and even welcome. Part of it is just practice — I feel like I’ve got the solo travel thing mostly down now. I’ve also had a couple of significant mindset shifts in recent months (like this one about winter weather) that have helped my general outlook. Working full time for two out of the three weeks I was gone helped anchor me to something familiar and provided some structure. And as I mentioned, meeting up with some friendly folks helped too.

And finally to finish up… Whenever I travel abroad, of course I have thoughts about the overall character of the places I go, but they’re based on such an incomplete experience of those places that I’m hesitant to share them. The Saigon metro area has a population of ~13.5 million and I was there for 2 weeks as a tourist, so what the hell could I possibly know about it beyond the superficial? What I mainly tend to come away with is how those places compare to the United States. What freedoms exist in a place like Vietnam vs Singapore vs Qatar vs the United States? How are those freedoms distributed and who do they benefit? And from what authority are those freedoms derived? The more places I go, the less obviously free the US feels to me in many ways, even though our country’s baseline freedom remains high (for some at least).

But the main observation I came home with after this trip is this: America is a rich country that feels like a poor country. If you look at the investment in and the care put into infrastructure, common areas, and the experience of being in public in places like Singapore, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin and compare it to American cities, the difference is quite stark. Individual wealth in America is valued over collective wealth and it shows.

I know that’s a bit of a downer to end on, but despite what you see on Instagram, travel is not always fun & games and often provides some potentially tough lessons and perspectives. You might get your phone stolen and come back feeling a little bit less great about your home country. Them’s the breaks, kid — welcome to the world. Thanks for following along as always.

  1. The awful state of repair of many of the city’s sidewalks didn’t help either.

  2. Soon after entering the orchid garden, I got stopped for a short survey and the woman gave me $10 for my time, so I actually ended up making money.

Trailer for Season 2 of Ugly Delicious

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2020

Chef David Chang, who I guess is in the process of being not a chef now in the way that Bourdain became not a chef, is back for season 2 of Ugly Delicious, a food/travel/culture show on Netflix. From Eater:

Like the first season, this one promises to “use food as a vehicle to break down cultural barriers, tackle misconceptions and uncover shared experiences,” per a press release. The four episodes — only half the number of episodes as season 1 — will focus on food made for babies and children (“Kids’ Menu”), the vast world of Indian food (“Don’t Call It Curry”), the appeal and mystique of steak (“Steak”), and the varied cuisines that encompass what’s generalized as “Middle Eastern” cooking (“As the Meat Turns”).

I really liked season 1 of this show and I am not going to lie, I would love to somehow be involved in season 3. David, I have a passport, love to eat, and can talk about *gestures around at website* almost anything. Hit me up!

Special Edition GIF/JIF Peanut Butter Jar

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2020

Gif Jif

Online image emporium Giphy has partnered with Jif (the peanut butter people) to offer a limited edition jar of peanut butter with a dual-sided label: one side features the soft-G pronunciation of Jif and the other side the correct hard-G pronunciation of GIF. You can purchase a jar on Amazon. (via @waxpancake)

An Online Collection of Mexican Cookbooks (1789-Present)

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

Mexican Cookbooks

The University of Texas at San Antonio maintains a collection of over 2000 Mexican cookbooks dating from as far back as 1789 and a selection of those is available online.

UTSA’s Mexican Cookbook Collection is comprised of more than 2,000 cookbooks, from 1789 to the present, with most books dating from 1940-2000. In addition to broad general coverage, the collection includes concentrations in the areas of regional cooking, healthy and vegetarian recipes, corporate advertising cookbooks, and manuscript recipe books.

A guide to the entire collection is available or you can just dive in to the digitized content. (thx, megan)

Pasta Making Machines Are Mesmerizing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2020

The machines that cut the pasta at Brooklyn pasta company Sfoglini are mesmerizing to watch.

I predict that a 10-minute super slow-motion film of this pasta cutter would easily win best short film at the Oscars.

Milk - White Poison or Healthy Drink?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2020

When humans domesticated barnyard animals (goats, sheep, cows) starting around 10,000 years ago, they stumbled upon one of the most amazing schemes of all time. Instead of relying on the few human-edible plants scattered around for their energy needs, humans could raise animals that ate the plain old grass that was growing anywhere & everywhere and converted it into ultra-nutritious and energy-rich superfoods like meat and milk. Land back then was plentiful and the scheme allowed humans to produce many more calories with less effort using an energy source (the grass) that they didn’t otherwise have much use for.

But how does milk fit into the picture these days? It’s still a superfood that’s very beneficial to people in many parts of the world where adequate nutrition isn’t available from other sources. But as Kurzgesagt explains in this video, our land use has changed in the past 10,000 years, and cow’s milk production is a major source of carbon emissions (when compared to foods w/ similar nutritional value):

And don’t forget to check out the list of sources they used in producing the video.

“World Travel: An Irreverent Guide”, an Upcoming Travel Guidebook by Anthony Bourdain

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2020

World Travel Guide Bourdain

Just before be died, Anthony Bourdain began work on a travel guide with his long-time assistant and coauthor Laurie Woolever. The book was to distill the lessons learned from his life of travel as a TV personality and celebrity food enthusiast. Based on their conversations, Woolever is completing work on World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, which will be out in October.

In World Travel, a life of experience is collected into an entertaining, practical, fun and frank travel guide that gives readers an introduction to some of his favorite places-in his own words. Featuring essential advice on how to get there, what to eat, where to stay and, in some cases, what to avoid, World Travel provides essential context that will help readers further appreciate the reasons why Bourdain found a place enchanting and memorable.

Supplementing Bourdain’s words are a handful of essays by friends, colleagues, and family that tell even deeper stories about a place.

Here’s a brief taste of the kind of advice you’ll find in the book:

Skip the touristy spots, he said: “If you spend all that time waiting to get into the Eiffel Tower, you’ve completely wasted a day”; and forget the concierge: “They’re going to send you to the place with the clean bathroom. Some of the best meals I’ve had, you need a hazmat suit to go to the bathroom.”

You can preorder the book on Amazon.

McMillions, an HBO Documentary on the Massive McDonald’s Monopoly Scandal

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2020

In July 2018, I posted about the FBI investigation into the multi-million dollar McDonald’s Monopoly fraud.

For years, Jerry Jacobson was in charge of the security of the game pieces for McDonald’s Monopoly, one of the most successful marketing promotions in the fast food giant’s history. And for almost as long, Jacobson had been passing off winning pieces to family, friends, and “a sprawling network of mobsters, psychics, strip club owners, convicts, drug traffickers”, to the tune of more than million in cash & prizes.

In early February, HBO is airing a five-part documentary series on the investigation called McMillions:

Hosting Christmas Dinner for 50 Strangers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2020

Inspired by his holiday solitude in a new place last year, Brad Lancaster decided to host a Vancouver Christmas dinner for people who were going to be alone that day. Word got out, donations poured in, and he ended up hosting 50 people for a baller holiday dinner.

Impossible Foods Announces Their New Impossible Pork Product

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2020

Impossible Foods is expanding from faux beef to faux pork. Impossible Pork is their newest product made entirely from plants that is engineered to look and taste as close to the real thing as possible.

From the press release:

Impossible Pork is delicious in any ground meat dish, including spring rolls, stuffed vegetables, dumplings, wontons or sausage links. Like ground meat from pigs, Impossible Pork is characterized by its mild savory flavor, adding delicate depth and umami richness without being gamey or overpowering.

Although they don’t specifically connect the dots, Impossible Pork seems to be the base for another new product of theirs: Impossible Sausage, which is debuting in breakfast sandwiches at Burger King later this month. (I mean, you can’t make sausage without pork, right?!)

In a review of Impossible Pork for The Verge, long-time vegetarian Elizabeth Lopatto says it’s mostly a success, calling it “a savory base of protein for a lot of foods that traditionally call for pork”.

Thanksgiving Dinner Served on the L Train

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 26, 2019

File this under “I Love NYC”. On Sunday night, riders on a Brooklyn-bound L train were treated to a full Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of some of their fellow straphangers. For more than 20 minutes, a group of riders dined and passed out plates of turkey, collards, stuffing, squash, and mashed potatoes to other folks in the car. Here’s a 21-minute chunk of the action:

They started the meal with a prayer and everything. An onlooker said of the event:

It was a 7 PM Sunday L from union square and was not crowded at all. They said it was an inclusive gesture to emphasize no one should go without food on Thanksgiving. They were loud but not rowdy or a nuisance. They even handed out plates to everyone in the car — I got one and the turkey was a solid 7/10 and collard 8.5/10. I’m glad I got to experience something like this. Makes a great story!

There were even MTA employees amongst us but no one objected.

Here’s a shorter video with some of the highlights:

(thx, johana)

Neutron Stars and Nuclear Pasta. Yummy!

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2019

The latest video from Kurzgesagt is a short primer on neutron stars, the densest large objects in the universe.

The mind-boggling density of neutron stars is their most well-known attribute: the mass of all living humans would fit into a volume the size of a sugar cube at the same density. But I learned about a couple of new things that I’d like to highlight. The first is nuclear pasta, which might be the strongest material in the universe.

Astrophysicists have theorized that as a neutron star settles into its new configuration, densely packed neutrons are pushed and pulled in different ways, resulting in formation of various shapes below the surface. Many of the theorized shapes take on the names of pasta, because of the similarities. Some have been named gnocchi, for example, others spaghetti or lasagna.

Simulations have demonstrated that nuclear pasta might be some 10 billion times stronger than steel.

The second thing deals with neutron star mergers. When two neutron stars merge, they explode in a shower of matter that’s flung across space. Recent research suggests that many of the heavy elements present in the universe could be formed in these mergers.

But how elements heavier than iron, such as gold and uranium, were created has long been uncertain. Previous research suggested a key clue: For atoms to grow to massive sizes, they needed to quickly absorb neutrons. Such rapid neutron capture, known as the “r-process” for short, only happens in nature in extreme environments where atoms are bombarded by large numbers of neutrons.

If this pans out, it means that the Earth’s platinum, uranium, lead, and tin may have originated in exploding neutron stars. Neat!

What Killed City Bakery?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2019

Last week, the beloved NYC eating establishment City Bakery closed its doors due to financial troubles.1 Rachel Holliday Smith dug into what happened for The City. It sounds like the company over-expanded, couldn’t get out of the debt it took on, and got into a series of increasingly bad lending situations.

One of those bad deals was borrowing $75,000 from a financial services firm called Kalamata Capital Group and promising to pay back $105,000. That’s a 40% interest rate, firmly in loan shark territory. But this is the bit that really got my eyebrows heading north (especially the bit in italics):

In a statement, the chief operating officer of Kalamata Capital Group, Brandon Laks, said the company “is truly sorry City Bakery decided to close” and stressed that many Kalamata Capital Group employees loved the establishment.

He said KCG made amendments to the funding agreement as City Bakery struggled and “without KCG’s capital and amendments, City Bakery would have closed, and jobs would have been lost, much sooner.”

“Unfortunately, many small businesses close and it is a risk KCG takes when we help fund and support these businesses,” he said.

Let’s be clear here: City Bakery was primarily a place for folks who can afford $5 croissants, but this is one of those instances where capitalism has become deeply disconnected from the people it’s allegedly supposed to benefit. All those KCG employees that loved City Bakery? Meaningless bullshit. A local lender that wants to invest in the community and its businesses doesn’t charge 40% interest. City Bakery needed some solid financial advice, a plan for getting out from under their debt (if possible), and a loan with decent terms. All KCG did was give City Bakery more rope to hang themselves and called it “support”.

Update: A couple people have pointed out that we don’t know the length of the loan and so cannot calculate the annual interest rate. Even so, as the article details, these “merchant cash advance” loans are under increasing scrutiny for being predatory:

As the Duncans soon learned, tens of thousands of contractors, florists, and other small-business owners nationwide were being chewed up by the same legal process. Behind it all was a group of financiers who lend money at interest rates higher than those once demanded by Mafia loan sharks. Rather than breaking legs, these lenders have co-opted New York’s court system and turned it into a high-speed debt-collection machine. Government officials enable the whole scheme. A few are even getting rich doing it.

  1. I was in NYC last week and City Bakery shuttered on the very day I was going to wander over for one of their chocolate chip cookies, my #1 all-time favorite cookie.

An Online Collection of Colorful Fruit Crate Labels, 1920s-1950s

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2019

Fruit Crate Labels

Fruit Crate Labels

Fruit Crate Labels

Fruit Crate Labels

Fruit Crate Labels

From the State Library of Florida comes a collection of more than 600 crate labels used by the citrus and vegetable industries from the 1920s to the 1950s.

To help give Florida fruits and vegetables an edge, growers looked to the booming produce packing industry in California, where advertisers were already using bold, elaborate labels to catch buyers’ attention. Florida companies began designing their wooden shipping crates and paper labels based on this successful model.

Paper crate labels were used in Florida from the late 1800s until the 1950s. The earliest paper labels were fairly generic and often didn’t include a brand name. Starting in the 1920s, advertisers began developing more complex marketing strategies, aiming to entice buyers with colorful brand names and imagery.

What an amazing variety of design and typographic styles. There’s also some questionable imagery in there as well: Mammy Brand, Dixieland Brand, Brave Vegetables, Indian Chief, etc.

See also The US Government’s Trove of Beautiful Apple Paintings. (via @john_overholt)