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kottke.org posts about food

How Does Waffle House Stay Open During Disasters?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2019

Waffle House is prepared to make you breakfast at all hours of the day in any kind of weather. The restaurant chain is so widely respected for its severe weather preparedness that a former director of FEMA started using their stores as an indicator of how bad a particular storm or disaster was:

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.

Annie Blanks recently visited the “Waffle House Storm Center” in advance of Hurricane Dorian’s predicted landfall in Florida.

When any of the stores are in danger of being hit by severe weather, so-called “jump teams” are activated to be ready to deploy wherever needed.

Jump teams are made up of Waffle House contractors, construction workers, gas line experts, restaurant operators, food providers and other associates who are assembled and ready to go wherever needed at a moment’s notice. Their purpose is to help relieve local Waffle House operators and employees who need to evacuate, be with their families or tend to their homes when a storm hits, and help make sure restaurants are able to open quickly after a storm or stay open during a storm.

On Twitter, Blanks shared a photo of the four different pared-down menus that Waffle House prepares for disasters.

Waffle House Menus

(via @LauraVW)

The King of Fish and Chips

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2019

In the 1960s, Haddon Salt built up a small empire of fish & chips shops in North America — they eventually had more than 500 stores. That attracted the attention of Kentucky Fried Chicken, then flush with cash after their IPO. And then…

An initial Google search revealed that this shop was the last gasp of a once-sprawling fish-and-chips empire with hundreds of locations that started with an immigrant’s secret family recipe, flourished into an eight-figure deal with Colonel Sanders and ended in collapse.

It took several years and the research help of friends to track down Mr. Salt. We found him in a remote retirement community in Southern California’s desert. The rest you can see in the film before you.

For every icon there are those who were almost famous. And perhaps they, even more than their conqueror, have the lessons we need to hear.

See also when Colonel Sanders badmouthing KFC: For the Colonel, It Was Finger-Lickin’ Bad.

Le Corbuffet

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

Le Corbuffet was a series of performances by artist Esther Choi that sought to bring together food with notable artists and designers, along with a healthy dose of puns. A cookbook based on the project will be out in October: Le Corbuffet: Edible Art and Design Classics. Here’s the page for Quiche Haring:

Le Corbuffet

Other dishes include Rhubarbara Kruger Compote, Shigeru Banchan Two Ways, Yokonomiyaki, Rem Brûlée, and the Robert Rauschenburger. Here’s the full menu/table of contents:

Le Corbuffet

Says Choi about where the idea for the project came from:

In 2014, I stumbled across an elaborate menu crafted by László Moholy-Nagy. The multi-panelled bill of fare was for a dinner held in tribute to the Bauhaus founder and architect, Walter Gropius, in 1937. Inspired by the menu for Gropius’s dinner, and the questions that it raised about the elitism of cultural production, I decided to conduct a social experiment a year later.

Lovely and Relaxing Videos of Traditional Countryside Life in China

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

Li Ziqi is a woman who lives in Sichuan province in China with her grandmother, preparing food and making clothing from scratch without the use of modern technology (mostly). Her YouTube channel has more than 5.7 million subscribers. In this video, she makes a purple wool cloak for the winter:

Her practice of shooting the videos herself, her reliance on traditional techniques, and her editing style is strongly reminiscent of the Primitive Technology channel — her videos are meditative in the same way. I watched this video of her making jam this morning and was left both hungry and relaxed, an unusual combination:

(via @juririm)

The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2019

The servers at The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders, a series of pop-up restaurants in Tokyo, are all living with dementia, which means that you might not receive what you ordered.

All of our servers are people living with dementia. They may, or may not, get your order right.

However, rest assured that even if your order is mistaken, everything on our menu is delicious and one of a kind. This, we guarantee.

“It’s OK if my order was wrong. It tastes so good anyway.” We hope this feeling of openness and understanding will spread across Japan and through the world.

At the first pop-up, 37% of the orders were mistaken. This video explains a bit more about the concept and shows the restaurant in action.

The Racial History of Soda in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2019

In 2013, University of Virginia historian Grace Elizabeth Hale wrote about “the long and often fractious history of soft drinks, prohibition laws and race” for the NY Times.

Coke’s recipe wasn’t the only thing influenced by white supremacy: through the 1920s and ’30s, it studiously ignored the African-American market. Promotional material appeared in segregated locations that served both races, but rarely in those that catered to African-Americans alone.

Meanwhile Pepsi, the country’s second largest soft drink company, had tried to fight Coke by selling its sweeter product in a larger bottle for the same price. Still behind in 1940, Pepsi’s liberal chief executive, Walter S. Mack, tried a new approach: he hired a team of 12 African-American men to create a “negro markets” department.

More here at The Atlantic:

Elsewhere in the soft drink industry, though, the oversimplification of target consumers has had its questionable if not altogether offensive moments, too. Mountain Dew, for instance, originally based its entire brand around making fun of poor Appalachians, also known as hillbillies. In the late 40s and early 50s, its label featured the official Mountain Dew mascot “Willy the Hillbilly” and the slogan: “Ya-Hoo! Mountain Dew. It’ll tickle yore innards.” (The name of the soft drink, of course, refers to the Southern slang for moonshine.)

In a not-very-convincing rebuttal to Hale’s article, Coke’s “Chief Historian” argues that the company has always been America’s “most inclusive drink” and more oddly, that Coke has never contained cocaine, which Snopes handily debunked. (thx, caroline)

Making Food from Carbon Dioxide & Water

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

Using a concept from NASA, a Finnish company called Solar Foods has figured out how to manufacture protein from carbon dioxide, water, and electricity. They call it Solein.

A company from Finland, Solar Foods, is planning to bring to market a new protein powder, Solein, made out of CO2, water and electricity. It’s a high-protein, flour-like ingredient that contains 50 percent protein content, 5-10 percent fat, and 20-25 percent carbs. It reportedly looks and tastes like wheat flour, and could become an ingredient in a wide variety of food products after its initial launch in 2021.

It’s likely to first appear on grocery shelves in protein shakes and yogurt. It could be an exciting development: Solein’s manufacturing process is carbon neutral and the potential for scalability seems unlimited — we’ve got too much CO2, if anything. Why not get rid of some greenhouse gas with a side of fries?

The production of food (and the protein contained in meat in particular) is responsible for a large percentage of our planet’s changing climate, so if Solein pans out, it could be a huge development. It will be interesting to see if the wizards or prophets win the battle to “fix” climate change…Solein is one hell of a salvo by the wizards.

Zero-Waste Cooking

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2019

Nolla is a zero-waste restaurant in Helsinki, Finland.

At Nolla there is no waste bin in the kitchen nor can you find any single use plastic in the restaurant either. No produce wrapped in plastic, no cling film, no vacuum bags. Every detail from staff clothing and napkins to tableware has been thought of. Even the gift cards are made of compostable paper that has poppy seeds in them.

We don’t produce waste nor do we cook from waste.

We work directly with suppliers to rethink, reject and control packaging while at the same time sourcing local and organic produce, which are the core of our menus.

See also WastED, a pop-up series conceived by Blue Hill’s Dan Barber where dishes on the menu were made of so-called waste food.

And if you would like to use less plastic in your own home, Trash Plastic offers a bunch of tips to make that happen.

The Best Supermarket Beer

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 26, 2019

This is a fun one; over at The Takeout, they did a fantasy draft where each of the writers picked his/her favorite supermarket beer (i.e., a beer widely available at a supermarket or convenience store).

Number one overall is a favorite beer of mine: Negra Modelo.

Supermarket Beer.png

The back and forth here is nice:

John Carruthers: Good. I’ve had #1 since two seconds after you sent this topic to me.

The very first pick, and my face of the franchise, is Negra Modelo.

Kate Bernot: That would have been in my top 3. Damn.

JC: I’m not real hot on regular Modelo, but man if the dark version isn’t almost perfect 7-Eleven beer

It’s light enough to be refreshing, but has a little more character than a lot of macro beers to keep you interested

It’s a sort of Vienna Lager, owing to the German brewing influence on Mexico’s beer culture

KB: Also a great food beer.

JC: It’s great with the free chips and salsa at a sit-down Mexican or Tex-Mex place

Honestly my idea of “I just want to sit down and order a beer and have it get here fast” perfection

Bonus: the folks at The Takeout interviewed some of their favorite brewers to find out what THEY liked to get when they’re feeling cheap and breezy. Their answers might surprise you!

That’s My Jazz

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2019

That’s My Jazz is a short documentary by Ben Proudfoot about world class pastry chef Milton Abel II, who reminisces about his father, Milton Abel Sr., a world class Kansas City jazz musician. The film is a tender and moving rumination on their relationship and the balance between achieving greatness in the world and being present in the lives of your loved ones.

Help This Guy Name His Cheerios

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

Cheerio Names

Brian McMullen is giving names to all of the 3,501 Cheerios in his cereal box and is taking name suggestions on Twitter. (via sam potts)

My Recent Media Diet, The “It’s Not Life or Death, It’s Just Tacos” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two months. I never wrote a proper report on my trip to Mexico City, so I put some of the highlights in here. I’m in the middle of several things right now. On TV, I’m watching Our Planet, In Search of Greatness, Street Food, Chernobyl, The Clinton Affair, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, and This Giant Beast That is the Global Economy. I don’t normally watch 19 different things at one time, but life’s felt a little scattered lately. For books, I’m listening to Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond on audiobook and I’m making good progress on Robert Caro’s Working (highly recommended).

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan. Hard to summarize but there’s certainly something interesting on almost every page. (A-)

Fleabag. Bitingly funny and poignant, a real gem. (A+)

Skyscraper. Die Hard + the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia + #sponcon for Big Duct Tape. I love a good disaster movie. (B+)

Mexico City. Great food, vegetation everywhere, beautiful architecture, culturally fascinating, super walkable/bikeable/scooterable. I am definitely visiting here again as soon as I can. (A)

Puyol Taco Omakase. Delicious & fun & a great experience, but I’m not sure the food was obviously so much better than some of the best street food I had in Mexico City. I had this same experience in Bangkok years ago…street food is tough to beat when there’s a thriving culture of markets, carts, and stalls. (B+)

The National Museum of Anthropology. One of my new favorite museums in the world. The only thing possibly more impressive than the collection is the architecture of the building. (A+)

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacán. I had high hopes for this archeological site and I was still blown away by it. (A+)

AirPods. This is my favorite gadget in years, the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless (and not like a Segway for your face). The freedom of wireless headphones feels similar to when I first used a laptop, wifi, and dockless bike share. (A+)

Homecoming. So many things to love about this, but one of my favorites is the shots of the audience watching Beyoncé and the rare moments when she watches them back: “I see you.” And also the way they put a cohesive show together while showcasing individual talents and styles. (A-)

Homecoming: The Live Album. Come on, a marching band playing Beyoncé hits? That this works so well is a small miracle. (A-)

Avengers: Endgame. I liked but didn’t love it. It was like the ST:TNG finale and the Six Feet Under finale mashed together and not done as well. It also seemed too predictable. (B)

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now that the Thanos narrative arc is complete, this is an underrated installment. (B+)

Casa Luis Barragán. This was like being in someone’s creative mind. The layering of the garden reminded me of Disney’s use of the multiplane camera in the forest scene in Bambi. (B+)

Gelatin Sincronizada Gelitin (NSFW). I was skeptical of this art performance at first — a bunch of half-naked people painting on a moving canvas using paintbrushes coming out of their butts — but it ended up being a really cool thing to experience. (B+)

Game of Thrones. I’m not quite as critical of the final season as everyone else seems to be. Still, it seems like since the show left the cozy confines of George RR Martin’s books, it has struggled at times. (B+)

Wandering Earth. Based on the short story by Liu Cixin (author of the Three Body Problem trilogy), this disaster movie is a little uneven at the start but finishes strong. (B)

Halt and Catch Fire Vol 2. The music was one of the many great things about this show. (A-)

Running from COPS. A podcast about how media and law enforcement in America intersect to great and terrible effect. (B+)

Eating bugs. I tasted crickets, grasshoppers, and grubs at the market: mostly just salty. I had beef tartare and guacamole with grasshoppers on it. They added a nice crunch to the guac. Wouldn’t exactly go out of the way for them, but they weren’t bad. (B)

Panaderia Rosetta. Did I have one of the best pain au chocolat I’ve ever had here? Yes. Yes, I did. Also extremely delicious: everything else I tried. (A-)

Against the Rules. A podcast from Michael Lewis about what’s happening to the concept of fairness in America. The episode about Salvator Mundi, the supposed Leonardo masterpiece, is particularly interesting. (A-)

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. I have a new appreciation of how much Tolkien did in creating his books: writing, map making, world building, art, constructing languages. (B+)

Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. A striking house with a lush courtyard, but the highlight was seeing Kahlo’s work area much the way she left it when she died. (B+)

Street Food Essentials by Club Tengo Hambre. Mexico City is a huge place with so much to do that I wanted to hit the ground running right away, so I booked this street food tour. Definitely a good idea. We sampled so many different kinds of tacos & gorditas & quesadillas that I lost count. Highlights: huitlacoche quesadillas, al pastor tacos, fresh Oaxaca cheese at the Mercado de San Juan, and the blue corn masa used to make tlacoyos at one of our last stops — probably the best tortilla I’ve ever eaten. (A-)

The Matrix. This came out 20 years ago. I watched it with my 11-yo son the other day and he thought the special effects “held up pretty well”. (A)

Electric scooters. I used the Lime dockless electric scooters for the first time when I was in Mexico City and I loved experience. Easier than a bike and a fun & fast way to get around the city. Cons: the combo of the speed & small wheels can be dangerous and cities generally don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate them yet. (B+)

Paprika. Inventive and visually dazzling. Purportedly an influence on Christopher Nolan’s Inception. (B+)

Oh and just because, here’s a photo I took recently in my backyard that makes it seem like I live in Narnia or The Shire:

Ollie Shed

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

McHive, the World’s Smallest McDonald’s (for Bees)

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

McHive

A few McDonald’s restaurants in Sweden started putting beehives on their rooftops to help save dwindling bee populations and it turned into a national sustainability effort.

More franchisees around the country are joining the cause and have also started replacing the grass around their restaurants with flowers and plants that are important for the wellbeing of wild bees.

To promote the idea, McDonald’s constructed what might be their smallest restaurant, actually a fully functioning beehive just for the bees:

Totes adorbzzzz.

Sweet Little Rain, a Coffee Drink Built for Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2019

Sweet Little Rain

This drink from Chinese coffee chain Mellower Coffee is called Sweet Little Rain. A puff of cotton candy is suspended over a steaming cup of Americano. The heat from the coffee melts the cotton candy, which drips into the cup and sweetens the coffee. It is both a little bit of genius and unabashedly constructed for creating the perfect Instagram moment.

Cooking As A Service

posted by Tim Carmody   May 10, 2019

Alex Danco looks at some short-term and long-term trends and concludes that we may be on our way to a future where most of our cooking is outsourced to other parties.

As Cooking As A Service expanded from [less than] 10% to 25-30+% of our eating, we grew to consume and expect a far greater selection and variety of food compared to when we did all our cooking ourselves. Our consumption choices around what food we eat gradually pivoted from “What am I able to cook for myself” to “Is this exactly what I want to eat, yes or no?” Once you transition into “is this exactly what I want, yes or no” territory, it’s very hard to go back; it becomes a part of the standard of living that we expect….

From a couple of anecdotal conversations I’ve had with restaurant managers about this, it seems like once you open yourselves up as a restaurant that can be found on the delivery apps, a huge percentage of your kitchen volume switches over to fulfilling those orders, and your front-of-house costs get hung out to dry as increasingly unnecessary. Flexible, modular kitchens that are available for rent for any chef who wants to cook in it, and that have easy access to delivery cars and which pay for no front-of-house extras seem pretty obviously like the next iteration of back-end Cooking as a Service, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them pop up everywhere soon enough. If they can collectively bring down the cost of outsourced cooking another 20-30%, I think the economics start looking pretty compelling for outsourced cooking (including delivery) to effectively pay for itself out of the savings incurred by paying for ingredients and cooking equipment in bulk. At that point, kitchens start to truly become optional.

What I think is compelling about this argument (and it’s worth reading in full) is that it isn’t driven by a single mover: e.g., delivery apps, or supermarket prepared foods, or fast food, etc. It’s a whole suite of cultural transformations that are changing all at once, but all moving more or less in the same direction, towards less cooking being done in the home.

The Ecological Footprint of Fish

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2019

Ecological Fish Footprint

Artist duo Chow and Lin have produced a visual representation of the amount of small fish it takes to produce large farm-raised fish in China. The three big fish in the middle of the graphic eat all of the other fish surrounding them before they’re harvested.

We examined the impact of farm fishing through the large yellow croaker (大黄鱼) which is China’s most popular fish.

Working with scientists, fish experts and local government officials, we traversed 4 towns in Fujian China to build a tessellated mosaic of fish portraits to see how much wild small fish is needed to sustain fish farming.

The answer is 7.15kg, 39 species, more than 4000 wild small fish to raise a single kilogram of large yellow croaker.

The Failure of the Great Tip-Free Restaurant Experiment

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

Over the past three years, a number of restaurants across the geographic and economic spectrum of America have experimented with eliminating tipping. The practice is outdated, creates a difficult-to-justify wage imbalance between servers and cooks, and can result in mistreatment of staff (racism, sexual harassment) because of the fucked-up power dynamic it creates.

But as Grub Street’s Nikita Richardson writes, the no-tip test has largely failed, with many of those places going back to the old ways. This happened for three main reasons:

1. No tips meant higher prices printed on the menu, and customers stayed away from what they perceived as more expensive meals. That $12 burger became a $14.50 burger and all of a sudden, people knew what they were actually paying for their food. What’s interesting is that in another situation (say, having to pay to check a bag on a flight), people would be upset at not knowing the price up front and having a “hidden charge” added to their bill when they’re drunk and happy at the end of a meal.

2. Servers can make more at tipping restaurants. Places that went tip-free lost a bunch of their staff to places that still had tipping.

Meanwhile, by raising menu prices and thus revenues, the extra money would go toward higher wages for kitchen staff, who could start making $12 to $15 an hour at a time when the state minimum wage was $8.75.

But, it turned out, many front-of-house staffers were more concerned with making money than with maintaining the moral high ground. This February, Meyer admitted that he had lost 30 to 40 percent of his “legacy” staffers since 2015. (One Meyer employee told Grub last year that her wages dropped from $60,000 per year to $50,000 under the new policy.) While he insisted that the employees that replaced them “understand ‘Hospitality Included’ and are thrilled about it,” added employee attrition in an industry where turnover is already 1.5 times that of the private sector average has to hurt.

My regular NYC spot was one of the restaurants that experimented with eliminating tipping, and I can report that the staff was indeed quite skeptical about it and they switched back to the old method very soon. (I believe they kept the raises for the chefs though somehow.)

3. Tips make diners feel powerful. With tipping, you become the boss of your server or bartender and are responsible for a large chunk of their take-home pay.

Generally speaking, Americans hated the practice of tipping when it was first introduced in the late 19th century, perceiving it as a form of bribery for service workers who should simply do their jobs. But as we’ve adjusted to it, tipping has become undeniably intertwined with a sense of power.

Short of walking into the kitchen and telling off the chef, tipping is the easiest way to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a dining experience.

As a customer, I loved not tipping. I don’t feel the need to have power over the staff in a restaurant, I want cooks & chefs to get paid as well as servers, and I’ve acclimated to factoring the tip into my dining expenses. But it seems that Americans in the aggregate do care about those things, and so here we are.

And if we’re going to have tipping in restaurants, we should all know how it works.

If you can’t afford to tip 20 percent of the total amount that you spend at a restaurant, you can’t afford to eat at that restaurant.

And if your meal is bad?

You still tip. If something truly egregious happened, you ask to speak privately with a manager. If you do not want to speak privately with a manager, and would rather correct this perceived slight by tipping less or not tipping at all, you do not actually care about your perceived slight; you’re just using it as an excuse to be a dick.

The Last Avocado

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

If you had access to the last ripe avocado in the world, what would you do with it?

59 Ways to Cook Your Eggs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2019

Eggs are an extremely versatile food. They taste great alone, make super sauces (including the much maligned mayonnaise, which I love), and can dress up leftovers into a whole other meal — just put an egg on it.

In this video, Bon Appétit editor Amiel Stanek explores almost 60 different ways to cook an egg, from over easy to coddled to grilled to something called “blowtorched egg” (not great). Be sure to catch the Rollie egg cooker in action at ~20:50…yucko. In general, the classic cooking methods beat newer techniques in terms of taste, texture, and convenience.

See also Every Way to Cook a Chicken Breast, Kenji’s guide on making perfect hard-boiled eggs, and How to Make Perfect Soft-Scrambled Eggs.

The Rise of the Fast Food Veggie Burger

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2019

Joining Carl’s Jr. and White Castle, Burger King is adding a tastes-like-beef veggie burger to their menu.

This week, Burger King is introducing a version of its iconic Whopper sandwich filled with a vegetarian patty from the start-up Impossible Foods.

The Impossible Whopper, as it will be known, is the biggest validation — and expansion opportunity — for a young industry that is looking to mimic and replace meat with plant-based alternatives.

The roll-out will start in the chain’s St. Louis restaurants and then proceed nationwide if all goes well. Here’s a commercial in which hardcore BK fans can’t tell the Impossible Whopper from their beloved beef version:

As an increasingly conflicted omnivore, I would be perfectly happy if all low- to mid-end burgers were replaced by veggie clones — I don’t care that the Quarter Pounder I eat once every three months is beef…I just want it to taste like a Quarter Pounder — and then high-end burgers (the ones where you can tell the difference and you eat only rarely) were made from humanely raised beef for which consumers pay an appropriate price that accurately reflects the true-cost accounting of their production. A meat burger that costs a dollar is just being paid for in other ways by someone or something else.

‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ Turns 50 Years Old

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2019

Hungry Caterpillar

50 years ago last week, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar was published for the first time. In a piece for The Atlantic, Ashley Fetters talked to a pair of kid lit experts about why the book remains so popular today.

Part of why both kids and parents love The Very Hungry Caterpillar is because it’s an educational book that doesn’t feel like a capital-E Educational book. Traditionally, children’s literature is a didactic genre: “It teaches something,” Martin says, “but the best children’s books teach without kids knowing that they’re learning something.” In The Very Hungry Caterpillar, she adds, “you learn the days of the week. You learn colors. You learn the fruits. You learn junk-food names. In the end, you learn a little bit about nutrition, too: If you eat a whole bunch of junk food, you’re not going to feel that great.” Yet, crucially, none of the valuable information being presented ever feels “in your face,” Martin says.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was certainly one of my favorite books as a kid — along with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town & Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, and the Frog & Toad books — and it was one of the first books we read to our kids. I remember very clearly loving the partial pages and the holes. Holes! In a book! Right in the middle of the page! It felt transgressive. Like, what else is possible in this world if you can do such a thing? (Also, “caterpillar” is such a satisfying word to say, both correctly and, er, less so… I still default to my childhood “callarpitter” sometimes).

What’s Eating Dan?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2019

From America’s Test Kitchen and Dan Souza, the editor-in-chief of Cook’s Illustrated, a YouTube series called What’s Eating Dan? In each episode, Souza picks a different food — pizza, rice, salmon — shares some of the science involved, and then shows us the best way to cook it. For starters, I’d suggest the first episode on burgers and a more recent one on mushrooms:

The Wasabi Farmer

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2019

By some accounts, 99% of the wasabi consumed in the world is not actually wasabi — it’s horseradish + green food coloring. Real wasabi is difficult to grow:

Authentic wasabi, known as Wasabia japonica, is the most expensive crop to grow in the world. The temperamental semiaquatic herb, native to the mountain streams of central Japan, is notoriously difficult to cultivate. Once planted, it takes several years to harvest; even then, it doesn’t germinate unless conditions are perfect. Grated wasabi root loses its flavor within 15 minutes.

Profiled in the short film above, 75-year old Shigeo Iida is the 8th generation owner of a wasabi farm in Japan, where he’s been painstakingly growing the herb in a beautiful valley for decades. He loves his work, but like other aging Japanese responsible for long-lived family businesses, there’s uncertainty about the future. (via craig mod)

Creatures of Habit

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2019

Ron and Diana Watson have been eating dinner at the same restaurant in Wichita 6 nights a week for 15 years. It’s their only meal of the day and they skip the bread because Ron was gaining too much weight from the complimentary dinner rolls.

The ritual is all part of the order Ron Watson likes in his life. A Vietnam veteran, he dines only in restaurants that offer military discounts, and Texas Roadhouse gives vets 10 percent off. He still has some PTSD, he said, and he feels comfortable at table 412, which is a booth at the bar that gives him a good view of the door and everyone coming and going.

The couple also are regular enough customers that they know how to make the most of their money at Texas Roadhouse. Every Sunday through Wednesday, they arrive between 3 and 3:15 p.m. to take advantage of the restaurant’s early bird special, which is available from 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and offers a full meal for $9.49.

I’m fascinated by people for whom routine is so important. I definitely have those tendencies; I watch favorite shows and movies repeatedly, wear pretty much the same outfit daily, return to familiar vacation destinations, and order the same dishes at the same restaurants again and again. So much of what I do for kottke.org focuses on finding the new — ideas, people, art, discoveries, culture — that it’s comforting to have parts of my life that aren’t relentlessly novel. But I also make ample time for new experiences that bring happiness & fulfillment into my life…and the rest I put on cruise control. (via tmn)

Update: From The Atlantic, The People Who Eat the Same Meal Every Day.

Many of the people I talked with emphasized the stress-reducing benefits of eating the same thing each day. Amanda Respers, a 32-year-old software developer in Newport News, Virginia, once ate a variation on the same home-brought salad (a lettuce, a protein, and a dressing) at work for about a year. She liked the simplicity of the formula, but the streak ended when she and her now-husband, who has more of an appetite for variety, moved in together six years ago. Would she still be eating the salad every day if she hadn’t met him? “Oh heck yeah,” she told me. “It would’ve saved so much time.”

Crack Pie, Girly Drinks, and Problematic Food Language

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2019

Soleil Ho is the new restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. In a recent article, Ho shared a thoughtful list of the words that she isn’t going to use in her restaurant reviews. One of the words is “crack”:

In addition to being overly dramatic, it seems really callous to write that a bowl of bean dip is “like crack.” No matter how delicious something might be, its effect on me is nothing close to what crack does to people and their families. It’s supposed to be funny and edgy to compare a gourmet cupcake to crack because of how far the chi-chi bakery I’m standing in is from the kind of community that has historically been devastated by the crack epidemic. The ignorance is the joke.

One interesting example of its persistence is in the way we talk about Momofuku Milk Bar’s “Crack Pie.” Writers have called its creator, chef Christina Tosi, a “crack dealer” and used the language of addiction to describe the dish. Honestly, the company should have done the right thing and changed it by now.

Language is power and words are meaningful beyond their simple or intended definitions. For any given problematic word, there are so many other words you can use.

See also New Language for Slavery and the Civil War.

Clam Gardens, an Ancient Sea Farming Technique

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2019

Despite much recent evidence to the contrary (see Charles Mann’s 1491 for example), the view persists that a pristine wilderness awaited European conquerors upon their arrival to the Americas because the existing population didn’t really do a whole lot to alter the landscape.1 Take clam gardens for instance. In the Pacific Northwest, indigenous people constructed these coastal structures to deliberately encourage the production of shellfish.

These features are made by constructing rock walls at the low tide line along the edges of bays and inlets, transforming naturally sloping beaches or rocky shorelines into productive, level beach terraces. While clam garden morphology, character, and setting can vary greatly, they generally consist of a well-sorted boulder wall built at the lowest tide line and a terrace on the landward side of the wall. By building the walls at particular heights in relationship to the tides (“tidal heights”), these features expand the zone of the beach where clams thrive. According to local knowledge, clamming beaches, including those associated with clam gardens, were kept clear of large rocks as another means to increase clam habitat. The flattened terrace created by garden walls can range in size from a few square meters on small beaches to well over a kilometer in length. These larger beaches are more like vast fields than ‘gardens’ in size.

Clam Gardens

Researchers believe thousands of these gardens and fields were built and have found clam gardens dating back at least 2000 years. The garden’s construction may also have encouraged the growth and development of other animals as well.

While much of the Network’s focus so far has been on clams in the clam garden terraces (mainly butter clam, littleneck, horse clam, and cockles), our observations and that of our First Nations collaborators suggest that the boulder walls themselves create productive rocky reef habitat for octopus, sea cucumber, whelks, chiton, red turban snails and other critters. Many of these are valued foods for coastal First Nations.

Update: A clam garden is called K’yuu ḴudhlḴ’aat’iija in the Haida language and lux̌ʷxiwēy in the Kwakʼwala language. Both languages are endangered, with relatively few speakers and little transmission to the youth in those communities. (via @lilsheba)

  1. This is a prime example of what Sam Arbesman calls a “mesofact”.I’m guessing most people reading this learned in school that the Americas were sparsely populated and almost pristine before Columbus showed up, but subsequent research over the past 20 years has shown that this is very much not the case.

What Is a Vegetable? Do They Even Exist?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2019

Last night at dinner, we were talking about our favorite vegetables1 and when my daughter said tomatoes might be her pick, my 11-year-old son, who is at that annoying know-it-all stage of his life and loves to shut down his sister on any minor quibble, said “tomatoes are a fruit”. I argued back that while a tomato might technically be a fruit, it is culturally considered a vegetable and that he was just being a pedantic dick in order to dunk on his sister (but not in those exact words).

This morning, I ran across this piece by Lynne Peskoe-Yang called Vegetables Don’t Exist, in which the author goes quite a bit deeper into what a vegetable is now (and has been in the past).

Botanically speaking, it’s still clear: eggplants, tomatoes, bell peppers, and squash are all fruits. It’s equally clear that mushrooms and truffles are fungi, more closely related to humans than they are to plants. But these are all, also, in common usage, “vegetables.” Yet when an authority like the Oxford English Dictionary should provide clarity on what a vegetable actually is, it instead defines vegetables as a specific set of certain cultivated plant parts, “such as a cabbage, potato, turnip, or bean.” And since carrots and turnips are roots, potatoes are tubers, broccoli is a flower, cabbage is a leaf, and celery is a stem, we find that “vegetable” rarely applies to the entire plant (or to the same parts of the plant), while it also has a way of applying to things that aren’t actually vegetables. It is a category both broader and more specific that the thing it’s supposed to describe.

The piece also references my favorite thing about the English language (which I first learned about in Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue) about why the food that results from pigs & cows are called pork & beef:

During Norman and early Plantagenet rule, the farm-to-table divide was less of a foodie buzzword than a class distinction: the upper class were served in French while serfs and servants planted, harvested, raised, butchered, and cooked in Anglo-Saxon. The French word for the served food lived alongside the Germanic word for its source. When Anglo-Saxon chickens were slaughtered, they became poultry for the Normans to eat. Food and animal were class-divided döppelgangers: Anglo-Saxon sheep, cows, swine, and doves were transformed into French mouton (mutton), boeuf (beef), porc (pork), and pigeons (pigeons).

(via @legalnomads)

Update: Apparently there is no such thing as a fish either.

If you choose to describe fish as, say, all the animals descended from the salmon lineage, then you’ve left out lungfish. Oops. If you choose to include both the salmon and the lungfish, you’ll see that one descendant of that original fishy-fish that gave rise to salmon and lungfish likewise gave rise to the cow. Suddenly, you’re stuck with either having the fish include the cows and humans, which no one wants, or no fish at all. Hello, modern evolutionary science; goodbye, fish.

(thx, paul)

  1. The whole thing came up because I remembered how amazing Momofuku’s brussels sprouts are and told the kids its one of my all-time favorite veggie dishes. Other favorites include corn on the cob (from a particular farm in Massachusetts), a perfectly ripe tomato (in caprese salad or on a BLT), asparagus, the snap peas I get from the local farmers’ market in the summer, hen of the woods mushrooms, and beets.

Confessions of an Adventurous Picky Eater

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2019

Amanda Mull on How to Stop Hating Your Least Favorite Food:

I’ve never had a traumatic barf experience with cucumbers, so my aversion is probably just an innate dislike. And the culprit behind my long-term cuke hatred might be in the vegetable’s smell, more specifically than its taste. “What we call ‘taste’ is really ‘flavor,’ which is a mixture of taste, smell, and texture,” Sclafani says. People lose olfactory sensitivity as they age, which is a big reason that many people seem to outgrow childhood aversions: A food that might have been overwhelming to a kid will read as more mellow to an adult. I’m in my 30s, so there’s a decent chance that, were I to give cucumbers a fair shake, I’d hate them a lot less than my childhood memories have led me to believe.

In recent years, I’ve come to the grudging conclusion that I am somewhat of a picky eater (with a couple of caveats that I’ll get into below). I grew up in the Midwest in the 80s, which meant I mostly ate meat & potatoes, pizza, and various things on white bread when I was a kid. Campbell soups were wielded by Midwestern parents to super-charge supper casseroles like Escoffier used béchamel or hollandaise. Vegetables were shunned and feared.

In my 20s and out of the Midwest, I started eating a wider variety of foods and some of my least favorite things — broccoli, mushrooms, beets, onions — are now among my favorites. The flavors of Japanese food (sushi, ramen) took a long time to get used to, but now I love them. Other foods — mustard, raw oysters, eggplant — I have repeatedly tried and failed to appreciate as others clearly do. Part of my problem, as I found out around that time, is that I’m a supertaster. That sounds cool, like I’m Spider-Man or something, but it really means that I’m an oversensitive taster, with a proclivity for bland food and sensitivity to bitter tastes (helloooo vegetables).

I’ve also realized that a lot of the food I ate as a kid wasn’t particularly fresh or well-prepared. Tacos were hard-shelled and flavor-packet-based, fish was in stick form, and Chinese food came out of a can. Canned mushrooms aren’t that great in comparison to fresh ones, and there’s a wonderland of flavorful mushroom varieties beyond the button. In the winter in rural Wisconsin, you couldn’t even buy fresh out-of-season vegetables like tomatoes in the grocery store in the 80s.

The weird thing is that I’m actually a pretty adventurous eater. If something is well-prepared and fresh, I will eat it. I never order anything “on the side” at a restaurant or ask them to skip an ingredient I don’t care for.1 My answer to a server’s “do you have any allergies or dietary restrictions?” is always “no”. I eat a lot of things that many other people won’t: tongue, liver, brains, tripe, sweetbreads, etc. When I am drinking alcohol,1 I will consume just about any kind of bitter digestif you can throw at me. The key for me, as Mull notes in the article, is that “gentle, steady exposure” can overcome many food aversions. Eventually, the adventurousness wins out over my picky palate. Except for raw oysters…I don’t know that I’ll ever eat them and enjoy the taste of low tide in my mouth.

  1. The only real exception to this is mustard because if there’s a smear of mustard on, for example, a Katz’s pastrami sandwich, it completely overwhelms the taste of the pastrami and rye bread for me. The “no mustard” thing has brought me a lot of ridicule over the years from hot dog and hot sandwich purists, but it can’t be helped.

  2. Which I am currently not, a topic that probably deserves its own post sometime.

The Forgotten Father of Pizza in the USA

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2019

A recent series of discoveries have upended the widely accepted story of the history of pizza in America and have the NYC food world in a tizzy. The typical origin story of American pizza is this:

In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi applied to the New York City government for the first license to make and sell pizza in this country, at his grocery store on Spring Street in what was then a thriving Italian-American neighborhood.

But research by Peter Regas (who looked in Italian-language newspapers from the late 19th century) has revealed a previously unknown pizza kingpin behind some of the NYC’s first pizzerias and moves the probable introduction date of the pizza back into the 1800s.

Of this forgotten older generation, one baker stands out. Filippo Milone came to New York in the late 19th century and likely established two of the most famous New York pizzerias that still exist today, Lombardi’s on Spring Street and John’s of Bleecker Street.

Regas explains, “Filippo Milone likely established pizzerias in at least six locations throughout New York City. Of these locations, three later became famous under different names: ‘Pop’s,’ ‘John’s,’ and ‘Lombardi’s.’ Pop’s in Brooklyn closed decades ago, but the other two in Manhattan still exist. Milone, a pioneer in what has become a $45 billion industry, later died in 1924, without children to preserve his story buried in an unmarked grave in Queens.”

Wow! This 1903 advertisement is for a pizzeria of Milone’s on Grand St.:

Pizza Milone

As for Lombardi’s founding in 1905, Regas has the receipts for that too:

While proof of that license has never materialized, Regas has tracked down Gennaro Lombardi’s birth record, naturalization papers, and other supporting documents that tell a different story. Gennaro Lombardi first came to America in November of 1904 at age 17, classified as a “laborer”. If he became involved with the pizzeria at 53 1/2 Spring Street in 1905, it was as an employee not as an owner. By that time, it had already been established as a pizzeria probably by Milone in 1898 but certainly by another proprietor named Giovanni Santillo who followed Milone in 1901.

As Pete Wells writes:

This is as if some other dude we’ve never heard of wrote both the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers and then handed them over to Adams Franklin Jefferson Madison Hamilton etc.

Regas is documenting his research here on an eventual book about all of this, due out sometime later this year. Boy oh boy, they’re gonna have to reprint a lot of NYC pizzeria menus with incorrect origin stories in them… (via @adamkuban)

A Brief History of Cheese (aka Immortal Milk)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2019

Featuring the ideas of cheese expert Paul Kindstedt, this TED-Ed video is a quick animated look at the history of cheese and cheesemaking over the last 10000 years.

The best indication of ancient cheese-making lies in pottery fragments that migrating peoples left behind as they moved to new locations. Neolithic peoples sometimes stored cheese and butter in pottery vessels, which left embedded residues of milkfat in the pottery. Even after thousands of years, these ancient milkfat residues can be identified by sophisticated archaeochemical techniques. By following the pottery trail, it is possible to reconstruct the movement of Neolithic cheesemakers out of the Fertile Crescent into northwest Turkey, and then westwards to Europe, where cheese-making evolved into countless new varieties, and eastwards to the Eurasian steppes. With respect to Africa, it is still unclear whether cheese-making arrived from the Fertile Crescent or developed independently there.

Kindstedt is the author of Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization and is based at the University of Vermont, not too far from where I live in VT, land of plentiful hyper-local cheeses…the nearest cheese-making dairy is 1/4 mile from my house. Some of Kindstedt’s recent research uses techniques like x-ray diffractometry to study stuff like crystal formation and packing density in cheeses, which takes me back to my research days in college studying the structure of glass. What a fun thing, to discover a whole new vector into cheese appreciation! (via open culture)