Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Service of Least Favorite Foods

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Garlic

When friend Daniel McHenry, who like me is not a fussy eater, told me the only foods he dislikes are raisins and coconut, it gave me the idea for this post.

Next I Googled the subject and found this list from Kitchen Daily of the “ten most hated foods in the US: Brussels Sprouts; Garlic; Cheese Fondue; Tofu; Celery; Oysters; Mayonnaise; Mushrooms; Licorice and Cilantro.” I didn’t read how the list was determined because my bet is that the items would change according to the backgrounds and region of the country of the people responding to the question.

The only thing I dislike on the list is tofu and I love garlic,Cilantro cheese fondue, mayo, cilantro and my husband makes great Brussels sprouts so I like them now. I might not go out of my way for a stick of celery but I don’t hate it.

Clearly the Kitchen Daily folks didn’t consult George H. W. Bush who in March 1990, according to The New York Times, “declared today that he never, ever wants to see another sprig of broccoli on his plate…” That was one of the things I remember him for along with pleas for a kinder, gentler world and “read my lips, no more taxes,” but I digress.

I would never order liver, grouse, snake, animal guts or unusual parts like brains. And in spite of the March 30 Wall Street Journal article by Annie Gasparro, “Millennial Entrepreneurs Think Americans Should Eat More Bugs,” I’ll let someone else give that trend a taste. I’m not adventurous enough to find out if I like bugs or not. I can hardly look at most when they are alive.

What about you? What foods do you avoid?

bugs to eat

Service of a Sleeper Brand: Morton Williams Shines Bright

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

morton williams supermarket fruits

I live in an area that doesn’t have the better known and oft-touted grocery stores Whole Foods, Fairway or Trader Joe’s nearby. I travel to these when I want something they sell but I’ve discovered that a neighborhood grocery chain—Morton Williams Supermarket–without the fame, media coverage and advertising budget of the others nevertheless offers a remarkable variety of high quality options at fair prices. [This wasn't so when the brand that preceeded it filled the space on Second Avenue in the 40s. It pays to check back.]

My apartment is sandwiched between two branches. Both occupy typical NYC modest spaces–microscopic by out of town standards. Nevertheless, this grocer often carries what I can’t find elsewhere–such as bright red current jelly [for cookies] or Siggi’s liquid yogurt, just two of many examples. I’ve complimented the manager at the 908 Second Avenue branch, Bob Siefring, on this accomplishment. Vegetables and fruits are fresh. When they have a sale, it’s a good one. [I wrote about one in a June 2016 post.]

Speaking of Siggi’s, I dropped by at a time an employee was filling Siggis Yogurtrefrigerator shelves  and asked if he had any of the blueberry flavor [the best]. He left his post, walked briskly to the storage area and brought out a bottle. Another time I couldn’t find mushrooms and the young man neatening the onion display stopped and walked with me to the spot when he could easily have pointed me in the right direction.

We live above a grocery store that bears a well known name in the city and apart from milk, water and seltzer; it rarely has what I am looking for. In spite of sky-high prices, it doesn’t carry fresh cider bottled locally. Morton Williams does. [There was a time you could only buy this cider from the farmer’s market or a specialty food store.]

Do you have a local grocery store—or any establishment—that’s a diamond in the rough, one that surprises you because it’s so much better than you might expect it to be?

morton williams supermarket logo

Service of Time and Place: Is Something Still Funny with Kids in the Picture?

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Kids in a frame

Todd Schnitt, co-host with Len Berman of the morning drive show on WOR 710 radio in NYC, deplored the slogan on a tee shirt that a young woman wore on the plane he, his wife and two kids were boarding recently. It promoted the F-word within a snarky comment. He was irritated that his kids had to see it.

He’d wished the crew had asked the woman to either wear her shirt inside out or buy another one at an airport shop as he’d read that other flight attendants had done the same. He also mentioned women boarding commercial flights in ridiculous décolleté who have been told either to cover up or leave.

boarding a planeSchnitt is no prude: He isn’t afraid of the racy story. He seems obsessed with Anthony Weiner and others caught in twisted situations of a perverted sexual nature. He reminds those who object—usually women–that his audience is young to middling-aged men.

chocolate cupcakesA day later an out of town friend told me that he was choosing some chocolate cupcakes for a five year old from a bakery often filled with kids buying treats. [He’d forgotten to recognize the child’s birthday and was seeing his dad and wanted a surprise at the ready.] “We call those Prozac cupcakes,” said the counterman. 

This friend doesn’t shock easily either, and even though he knew the baker picked what she thought was a clever name in an attempt at humor—as in desserts named “death by chocolate”–he wondered whether his choice was right for a chocolate-loving child and about the appropriateness of the name in the first place.

Do you think Todd and my friend are being prissy? Have we lost our compasses as to what’s funny–when–and in what context?

Compass

Service of Tweaks in Tomato Land: Is What’s Good for Shipping & Shelf Life Good for Me?

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

tomato 1

The words “safe” or “healthy” appeared nowhere in Daniela Hernandez’s Wall Street Journal article, “GMO Tomatoes May Stay Firm Longer–The genetic tweaks don’t significantly affect color and may preserve flavor, according to a new study.” She covered highlights from a paper published in Nature Biotechnology that showed that the modified tomatoes stayed firm for 14 days after they were picked, significant for shipping and shelf life.

When tomatoes are old they wrinkle

When tomatoes are old they wrinkle

And there was something else. The study, partially funded by Syngenta [seeds and pesticide], was performed at the University of Nottingham in the UK, a country that forbids people from eating genetically modified foods, so that nobody knows how these two-week-still-hard tomatoes taste!

Growing up in NYC before the advent of farmers’ markets, I disliked supermarket tomatoes that tasted at best like mushy apples. I realized how delicious the fruit can be when I lived in a foreign country where farmers waited until the fruit was a deep red before picking and selling.

“It’s unlikely the same DNA-wrangling technologies will be used for tomatoes grown commercially,” wrote Hernandez. “The tomato market isn’t big enough to ‘justify the cost of going through the regulatory hoops’ necessary to sell genetically modified tomatoes, said USDA plant molecular biologist James Giovannoni. ‘That is why the GMOs [genetically modified organisms] currently in the market are major crops, like maize or soy.’”

Tomato 3 commercialHernandez continued: “The research’s benefit is providing a road map to genes breeders could target. It’s more likely they would cross tomatoes with less pectate-lyase activity to commercial varieties and select those that are firm and tasty, he added.” [Not quite sure what that means.] “That will require growers to figure out what conditions give them optimal flavor and texture, at the right harvest time.”

So should I worry about the definition of “commercial growers?” Obviously they sell to behemoths like Del Monte and Heinz but what about the farmers who sell to small grocery stores, restaurants and at farmers’ markets—will their tomatoes eventually be tweaked to support more favorable shipping and storage or are they subject to the same complicated regulations as commercial growers? Do you believe that a genetically fiddled tomato will be safe and healthy to eat?

tomato 2

Service of Comfort Food and Atypical Museums

Monday, August 1st, 2016

ice cream

I love both a great idea and ice cream so when I read about the two in Charles Passy’s Wall Street Journal article, “Ice Cream Craze Soothes a Steaming City–Purveyors and entrepreneurs say the demand now churns year-round,” I had to share.

He mentioned Maryellis Bunn’s The Museum of Ice Cream. It’s such a hit that the pop-up–July 29 to August 31–has long been sold out. It’s in New York’s trendy meatpacking district, a stone’s throw from the High Line and Whitney Museum.

According to its website, the museum is “curated by a collective of ice cream obsessed designers, artists, and friends.” It boasts interactive highlights such as “a swimmable rainbow ‘sprinkle’ pool, edible balloons, an immersive chocolate room and a collaborative massive ice cream sundae.” There will be tastings of futuristic ice cream created by Dr. Irwin Adam, Future Food Studio founder. I checked out his Facebook page. The Toronto-based consultant is working on two pasta sauces: mealworm and cricket Bolognese.

GelatoPassy also wrote about some of the popular ice cream taste sensations in and around the city this summer: “black-colored coconut ice cream that takes its distinctive hue from coconut ash” at Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream. In addition there’s “10Below, which focuses on the Thai-style rolls made using a flash-freeze technique—hence, the company’s name. The ice cream is prepared by pouring the mix on a super-chilled plate, then rolling the finished product, like it was dough.” Popular as well are “gargantuan and creatively conceived milkshakes, priced as high as $15. They go by names such as Sweet N’ Salty and Sour Power” at Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer.

ProfiterolesHaving mentally gorged on some of my favorites–peppermint stick, caramel and coffee ice cream–I followed the museum idea and took a gander at the 26 “strangest museums” featured on www.travelandleisure.com. Some include the International Banana Museum; Museum of Pez Memorabilia; Devil’s Rope Barbed Wire Museum; National Museum of Funeral History and the SPAM Museum that on its website calls itself M.O.M.A. for the Museum of Meat-Themed Awesomeness.

If you go to The Museum of Ice Cream, please share your review. What’s your favorite flavor and brand—or ice cream memory? Do you eat ice cream year around? Have you been to any memorable offbeat museums here or abroad or is there one you would like to visit or create?

10Below Thai-style ice cream rolls

10Below Thai-style ice cream rolls

 

Service of Unexpected Outcomes: Shout-out to Chase Bank & Morton Williams & a Dud

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Surprise

There’s a surprise associated with an unexpected outcome, mostly happy, but not always.

Juicy

I am grateful when a grocery store cashier gives me the discount Morton Williams logowhen I buy only one in a promotion offering a fantastic price if I buy two. It happened when I bought a giant Tropicana OJ at Morton Williams this week. I didn’t want, nor could I use, two. Her decision put me in a good mood and the store on my “I’ll be back” list.

Check it out

I put a stop-payment on a check when I learned that a hefty May payment never arrived. The USPS let me down. I went nuts. When I arrived at Chase Bank in Pleasant Valley, N.Y. the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I was rattled. I saw my stellar credit rating going up in smoke.

Chase Bank LogoStacia Zimmerman, bank manager, greeted me pleasantly and was sympathetic. She made a copy of the new check and late notice for my records and gave me an extra copy of the stop-payment confirmation to include with the check. She even gave me an envelope so I could go immediately to the nearby post office to zip the replacement check by Priority Mail! To my astonishment, she waived the $30 stop payment fee as well.

I also noticed that Ms. Zimmerman called almost every person who entered the bank by name. She merged a charming, small town feeling with the benefits of a very big bank.

Dining Disaster

Bad restaurant serviceThen there was the dinner that we’d happily anticipated at a restaurant we’d visited for brunch and lunch, marveling at the food and cheery service. When we arrived the place looked fairly full but not jammed, however there were only two waitresses in view. We were seated  promptly by a pleasant server—the older of the two–and then ignored. We waited and waited. Eventually, after perhaps half an hour, the other waitress took our order. Then we waited again.

An hour after we had arrived, having asked three times for two glasses of white wine, only one arrived half full in a diminutive Champagne glass and the second, 10 minutes later. Meanwhile, staff was handing out beer and wine to those waiting for a table.

Did I mention that the AC wasn’t on and it was 80+ degrees outside? People tend to eat–and order more–when not roasting.

Our main course and one of two appetizers arrived together half an hour after the wine. They tasted fine, but still. We never saw the bread; no spoon came to capture the sauce in one dish. We’d given up by then.

The course we didn’t get remained on the check. My husband had to send it back a second time so the tax reflected the reduced total. He’s a generous man, but he was irritated.

At the next table when food arrived for a graduate and five celebrants, there was nothing for one in that party. She slapped her head in exasperation. Once they’d eaten the grandmother said, “The food was good but the management severely lacking.”

What had happened? The restaurant didn’t realize that it was graduation weekend for a local college, [a waitress admitted], and wasn’t prepared. By not turning away the unexpected  customers to handle only the number they could manage, they ruined the evening for everyone.

Can you share unexpected outcomes, both good and bad? What else might the restaurant have done to salvage its disaster?

Bad restaurant service 2

Service of Fakes

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

 

Fake

While art might come to mind first on the subject of fakes, [I covered that angle on Monday], there’s plenty going around that’s unrelated to pictures. Here I describe a telephone wolf in sheep’s clothing who is prowling the phone lines of Dutchess County, NY and a legitimate business that boasts a healthy, suitably ecological–if ersatz–meal in a bottle.

Taxing

I was alarmed last Friday night by a message left on our home phone that went something like this: “I am Denis Grey calling about an enforcement action executed by the US Treasury. You should cooperate with us to help us to help you or this would be considered an intentional attempt to avoid appearing before a magistrate of court or a grand jury for a federal criminal offense.”  Denis gave a phone number to call. He never said my name.  

Voice mailMy husband wasn’t disturbed—he said we’re up to date on our taxes for one thing and that the IRS would write before calling in any case. I felt antsy until I checked out the number online and saw that others had also heard from “Denis,” confirming this IRS scam.

I mentioned the Denis message to the attendant at my dry cleaner and she’d received the same as had the next two customers, one of whom had seen it covered on TV news. Pretty sure that anyone foolish enough to return the call would be asked to confirm their social security number or to provide other personal information.

A few days later I got a text marked urgent supposedly from Chase Bank telling me to call a number with 860 area code immediately. There were a string of others online who had also received the text, some from faux Chase, others Bank of America. One person reported that his text noted that his credit card was deactivated and in order to re-activate it he was prompted to enter his 16-digit card number. Sure. Right away.

Taste Sensation-less

Wall Street Journal columnist Christopher Mins wrote “The End of Food Has Arrived, Finally.” He welcomes a quick and easy way to eat healthy, cheap food [$2.50/bottle] on the run with a bottle of Soylent. He wrote that the company claims that its 400 calories from the plant sources of protein, carbs and fats, contains a quarter of daily nutrients.

The taste of Soylent today is “much evolved from its nearly unpalatable first version,” in Mins’ opinion. Not a novel concept, he lists predecessor meal replacement products such as the wine, bacon and twice-baked bucellatum biscuits ancient Roman soldiers carried to the portable soup Lewis and Clark lugged cross country. He qualifies the drink as “the most recent and highly evolved version of the convenience foods without few of us could function.”

Soylent. Photo: soylent.com

Soylent. Photo: soylent.com

Mins reminds the reader that food is “a deeply personal, cultural and even political phenomenon, which is one reason Soylent touches a nerve. But it’s precisely the time in which we find ourselves—when our humble daily bread pales in comparison to the meals we see on social media, and our health and environmental consciousness becomes more acute than ever—that a generic and convenient food replacement like Soylent starts to make sense.”

Have you ever been alarmed or duped by a scam artist on the phone, by email or text?

Have you tasted Soylent in its first and/or current iterations? Do you seek out less tech-y yet healthy substitutes for a quick meal—like drinkable yogurt–when you are on the run? To ensure that there’s enough food to go ’round, should we force ourselves to opt for foods like Soylent?

  Bread and water

 

Service of Sales Promotions: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Sales Promotion

Take Care: The Good

I got a generous 30 percent discount offer for online purchases from CVS, a pharmacy chain. Among other things I ordered a $45 OTC product my husband eats like popcorn. I’ve taken advantage of this offer many times.

CVS logoWhether in the store or online, I am very careful to choose the right version as there’s one for kids that looks pretty much the same as the one he uses. So I was surprised when I opened the box and there was the kid’s version. I clearly clicked the wrong package–I hadn’t reviewed the order when the email confirmation arrived. [I'd never made a mistake like this before.] I called customer service, admitted my mistake and was given a bunch of options. I chose to return the box of kid’s stuff to a retail store and the cashier gave me a gift card equivalent to the amount I’d paid: A seamless collaboration between online and retail operations. I’m a fan.

Fishy: The Bad

fresh fishI get email notices of special promotions from a fish store that assumes that everyone has a big family: You get a free pound of the fish of the day if you pay for a pound. If you like fresh fish–which is why people shop here–freezing the extra won’t do. So while it may seem like a great deal, it’s of little use to some–such as me. Why not just offer a smaller percentage off per pound?

Hot Dog! The Ugly

As I left to run errands I noticed a crowd of students who attend a college down the street from my office, gathered around a table on the sidewalk in front of a small food establishment. You often see a person handing out food samples in little cups from a tray. Tables on a city sidewalk are unusual.

hot dogOn my return only three people were in an orderly line so I could see what was on the table and I joined the line.  Along with a sign declaring “free hotdogs” were two bottles of condiments and a tray with the snacks. The line moved quickly, I was next and there was one dog left. Just then a man arrived at the table from the other side and he stopped. The server looked at me, looked at him, and handed him the last hotdog.

I calmly said to the server “You made a mistake. You saw I was next. My office is two doors up. I was about to tell the 10 young men in my office about this business–they order out daily. I won’t now.” She stuttered that there were more inside but I was off.

What a shame: The owner meant well and now someone on staff has turned off a potential customer who will never go inside only to expect to be faced with similar discrimination. Also lost is positive word-of-mouth, the best marketing tool there is for a food place.

Can you share any good or bad promotions of late?

Buy 3 for the price of 3

Service of a Glacial Pace When it Comes to Food Safety: Key Word–Preventable

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Sloth

Even advocates of the Slow Movement might agree that it’s taken far too long for the Food and Drug Administration to create and implement rules for the five year old Food Safety Modernization Act. Congress passed the act, wrote Jesse Newman, “after a wave of deadly outbreaks in the past decade stemming from contaminated fruit, spinach, peanut butter and other products.”

So hurry up, already, before someone else gets sick and/or dies!

With the new rules, the feds can take action before—not after—foods are found to be tainted. Newman added that manufacturers will have to “detail in writing” their food-safety steps. But don’t breathe sighs of relief just yet. According to Newman, food companies large and small have until 2018 to comply, though the larger ones must move more quickly.

And then there’s insufficient funding. More about that later.

Food safetyIn “FDA Tightens Its Food-Safety Rules,” Newman wrote: “About 48 million people, or one in six Americans, get sick each year from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die annually.”

Those made ill from tainted peanut butter who are still alive might find solace in this week’s Associated Press [AP] headline “Ex-Peanut Exec gets 28 Years in Prison for Deadly Salmonella Outbreak.” The executive, Stewart Parnell, was the owner of Peanut Corporation of America. According to the AP, this was “the stiffest punishment ever handed out to a producer in a foodborne illness case. The outbreak in 2008 and 2009 killed nine Americans and sickened hundreds more, and triggered one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history.”

PeanutsParnell knew that he’d shipped contaminated peanut butter, the federal jury determined. The AP reported that Judge W. Louis Sands said, “‘These acts were driven simply by the desire to profit and to protect profits notwithstanding the known risks.”

The killer is that these incidents needn’t happen. “Largely preventable” were the words the FDA deputy commissioner for food and veterinary medicine used in Newman’s article. The reporter mentioned the latest listeria outbreak in ice cream that killed three people and the fact that “Blue Bell neglected practices that might have prevented listeria contamination.” And then there were the Mexican cucumbers that contained salmonella and lately made people sick in 30 states.

PreventableBut there’s another snag: Insufficient funding. The FDA says it needs $260 million to implement the rules but House and Senate appropriations bills for 2016 are under $100 million. Maybe they can take some money from health insurers who have to pay the hospital and medical bills of people who didn’t have to get sick in the first place.

Given that members of Congress and the FDA and their families eat food, and we clearly can’t depend on manufacturers to take the right steps on their own, I’m puzzled at the sluggish pace they’ve agreed to to avert preventable, potentially life-threatening measures. And you? Is there a better way? Have you ever been made sick by tainted food? Isn’t it incredible that due to lack of responsibility of so many we even need such regulations?

vintage family eating dinner

Service of Empty Shelves—Or Is That Empty Suits?

Monday, September 21st, 2015

A & P empty shelves Sept 2015

I began to catch up with the A&P bankruptcy story in the New York Post on September 1 when Lisa Fickenscher reported an eye-opener: The company that went into bankruptcy in July wanted to squeeze 75 percent out of the severance packages of 2,100 workers to increase a fund for 495 executive retention bonuses. They hoped to divide a $5 million pot.

In “Judge slaps A&P by limiting severance cuts,” she wrote that Judge Robert Drain’s ruling reduced the percentage to 48 percent. According to Fickenscher, one union official said “I don’t see any purpose in rewarding the same people who drove this company into bankruptcy.”

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company umbrella, which we know as A&P, includes stores named A&P, Pathmark, Food Basics, Waldbaums, Food Emporium, and SuperFresh which it plans to sell or close.

Money 4Subsequent to this ruling—just before a September 11th hearing–A&P reduced its request for executive retention bonuses from $5 million for 495 people to $3.9 million for 468, according to Joan Verdon in northjersey.com. In the second ruling Judge Drain said he’d approve the $3.9 million if the company added $1.1 million to “severance payments, which would go mostly to union workers.” In “A&P Increases Severance Payments” she wrote: “Drain said in considering A&P’s request for the retention pay, he felt as if he was picturing a line of 25,000 union workers standing in front of him ‘and I’m being asked to poke each one of them in the eye.’”

The corporation’s lawyer said he’d carry the judge’s ruling back to his client.

A&P CoffeeI have a personal history with the A&P. I went to one almost daily with my mother as a young child—it was down the street from our apartment—and now, in upstate New York,  I drop into one every weekend. Seeing this once venerable brand disintegrate makes me sad. According to Wikipedia, it was “the largest retailer in the nation” from 1915-1965. It was the largest food retailer from 1915-1975. It was founded in New York in 1859 as a chain of coffee and tea stores with a mail order business.

Last weekend in one of its Dutchess County stores, some of its shelves were empty. As an example, see the soda area, [photo at the top of the post], and it no longer carries brands such as Häagen-Dazs ice cream [just as well], yet its employees are as helpful and pleasant as always.

What are the advantages of going into bankruptcy? Customers and employees are the last on management’s mind. Suppliers are understandably reticent to sell goods to a company that might not pay its bills. Potential buyers don’t see the bankrupted company at its best. In an era of limited customer loyalty and plenty of competition, not finding what they want on the shelves of one store customers will quickly forge a path to another one. So who wins?

 Bankruptcy

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