Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A few cool food stories, you've probably never heard...

Split, insert cheese, broil - patent pending
     I'm a big fan of marketing, especially when something gets rebranded and is a bigger success when simply marketed as something else.  In my early days of parenting, a regular staple for me to make for the kids was a broiled hot dog, split down the middle, with a piece of American cheese wedged in there.  The kids weren't fans until I started calling them "Dad's Famous Grilled Cheese Hot Dogs"  and then their popularity soared.  I knew I  had gone too far when I'd return from traveling and my wife would want to know what I did differently to them, as the kids would claim hers didn't taste the same, and let's face it, it's cheese, wedged in a split hot dog and broiled, it's kinda tough to screw up the recipe.  The stories below are even more interesting, and I'll bet you've had some of these and didn't even know it....

     Consider the lowly Patagonian Toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides), a 15-22 lb fish that swims in the waters of the Southern Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans,  living in depths of 45 feet to 12,000 feet.  Prior to 1977, you couldn't give this ugly, bulging eyed, sharp toothed fish away.  The natives who fished it found it bland and oily, so few people fished it and there was an abundance of it.  Then
came Lee Lantz, a fish wholesaler, who rebranded the product and sold it to American and Canadian chefs as a mild fish that didn't dry out when used for catering.  After Lee's rebranding was accepted by the FDA in 1994 the demand for this fish grew exponentially and it spawned a whole illegal fishing craze for Patagonian Toothfish, and almost fished them to extinction. Fisherman of the time referred to it as "white gold" and it reached it's height of popularity in 2001, when Bon Apetit named it their "Dish of the Year"   Groups were then formed to protect the fish and some restaurants banded together and removed it from their menus.  Countries started to crack down on the pirate fishing of this fish, and while it remains on the watch list still, it's no longer thought to being fished to extinction.  This is quite the rags to riches story, and at this point I'm sure a lot of you are shaking
Chilean Sea Bass
your heads saying that you've never had Patagonian Toothfish, but how about Chilean Sea Bass?  That's right, it's neither truly all Chilean or even a bass, it's a type of cod, but this simple name change, vaulted this fish into a popularity unseen previously in that industry, all thanks to rebranding it.  

     Next we will discuss Crimini mushrooms.  In the 1980's, some chefs used Crimini's but the average person didn't.  They are brown mushrooms and they are earthy tasting, and the tastes at the time ran milder and people liked their mushrooms to be white.  This created issues for mushroom growers who couldn't sell the Crimini's if they got too large, and in fact had to frequently throw them away, until they rebranded them.  They started selling them to places like Whole Foods as a "meaty" mushroom that could be
Grilled Portabellos
used in a variety of ways, they sold it to a few key chefs who started playing around with grilling them and the demand for this product that was zero in 1993 now exceeds 30 million pounds  annually.  This is pretty amazing, especially since no one truly knows the origination of the new name and there are at least 4 accepted spellings of it. I give you the Portobello, I mean the Portabello, oops the Portobella, or finally the Portabella Mushroom.  Pick whichever one you'd like, but there's no denying the popularity of this food, and even the smaller ones now sell more as Baby Bellas than they do as Criminis.  How odd, but that is the power of rebranding. 

    I'll finish with a quick note on rapeseed oil.  You see one of the issues right away, who wants to have a product that contains the word "rape" in it to begin with?  That was not the only issue, however, since the original rapeseed plant from which the oil was derived was naturally high in
Rapeseed field
erucic acid, which is toxic to humans and banned from human consumption by the FDA in 1956.  When Canadians developed a rapeseed that was low in erucic acid in the 1970's they quickly realized that a product name change may behoove them, so their Canadian Oil Low Acid, was shortened to Canola.   This was wildly successful and what started as a Canadian Trademark, eventually transitioned to a generic term for oil made with rapeseed.  It's now also the highest producing oil seed crop in the U.S.  So, what's in a name?  I'll leave that to Shakespeare's Juliet to answer but I think with this blog, I've given you an idea of how important it can be. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thanks NY, you're a pain in the gas......

     I've known for a long time that we pay more in NY for gasoline and heard that the way we tax it had a lot to do with it, so this week I did a little research so I could educate the faithful readers of this blog.  Was I surprised?  You be the judge.

     I hate watching the news lately, especially the news about gas prices.  Inevitably the newscasters will lament the recent rise in the pricing, and blame the oil companies for their greediness. I'm a proponent of business, even big business, however, and I guess I don't mind the guys that are taking all the risks making some money on the deal.  To get oil they have to send people to dangerous places, ship it long distances in sometimes hostile waters, refine it in areas that are subject to storm damages each year, face countless lawsuits and legalities from environmental groups, are forced to dilute their products with inferior additives, and all this just to make a buck.  I truly am ok with that.  What I"m not ok with is the taxation of this product that most of us need in order to work, go to school or obtain goods and services.  Here's a snapshot of how each state measures up on this, and surprise, surprise, NY ranks #1 in the amount that they slap onto each gallon of gas used.  If Governor Cuomo is serious about making NY a better place for business, here's a starting point to try and correct.  FYI, we are one of the few states that tax this based on a percentage, so the tax is actually larger than this today as I write this, and will go up even more with every spike in oil pricing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why do I blog?

     This week the main idea of the blog is not unique.  Frankly I was reading another blog and the blogger had chosen this topic himself last week, and I thought that a column on what motivates me to blog might make for an interesting piece.  So I admit that I outright stole the idea, but the content is uniquely mine.  I still say that I am doing better than to re-do movies that were only shot 20-30 years ago.  Don't believe me?  Feel free to rent Arthur with Dudley Moore (1981) and Arthur with Russell Brand (2011) and I'm sure I will be vindicated. 

This blogger with his biggest fan
     I blog for ego.  Let's get it right out there first.  Artists put their paintings up in museums and galleries for others to enjoy, actors strut their stuff upon stages and sound sets, musicians in concert halls and performing arts centers, all for others to enjoy and to get the ego boost from someone else liking what they do.  I am no different, although some would see me as more vain than most actors, I appreciate when people choose to spend time reading my blog, and when they do gain enjoyment from it, it feeds my ego.  As an attention getting mechanism this one is pretty subtle as you have to follow a link to go read it (I used to stand up and sing uninvited at weddings, be glad you missed that)  It's cheap, it costs me nothing more than my own free time. It's as advertised, right up front, I declare that this blog is about me and my life, and on days like today, I'm dead on (incidentally, I'd be surprised if better than 70% of my blogs don't contain the word "I" in the title), so I blog for ego.

     I blog for my cat.  Nibbler has a favorite pet in the house, and clearly it is not me.  If my wife and I are in the same room together, Nibbler will generally choose to spend time on her lap rather than mine, but not at
Nibble getting into my gin
4:00-4:30 am as I write these blogs, that time is solely mine.  Nibbler also chooses to only randomly attack my wife's face too (it happened last night and it never stops being funny, she lays on the floor, she crouches down, with her ears back and dives directly at my wife's face), so there is a trade off to being the favorite.  I don't understand the love/hate thing with her and the cat, but I'll take being second banana in the house and not having to be on guard all the time for a flying leap to the face.  Most of these columns, however, are written with a cat on my lap, so I blog for my cat. 

    I blog for my family.  My immediate family gave me the idea for the blog, they do like my family stories, and asked for me to document them, and so I have.  For over two years now, I've mixed the stories of growing up with my siblings in amongst the other
My folks
blogs, like salt over a good steak.  I can only tell them from my perspective, but by allowing comments, I also have invited siblings and others to correct my bad memory or historical inaccuracies. I'm not sure how my siblings all take the blog, it's probably like me in real life, some enjoy my company and others just tolerate me, but I'm OK with that, that's the nature of relationships sometimes and just growing up together doesn't mean that you'll  all turn out the same.  When I do stop writing, I'll likely pay to have these blogs bound in a book and give them to each of my children. In that way, when they visit me in the nursing home, they'll have reference material to keep up on what memory I'm stuck on that day, and can help me through it.  I wish my Mom and Dad had blogged, they had better stories than I do, but I've forgotten more of them than I remember, so I want to leave a more permanent record behind, so I blog for my family.

     I blog for you, the reader.   For a guy that doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on the feelings of others, I do spend a lot of time thinking about how my blogs might affect the reader each time.  If I'm doing a travel
Roseland Park
blog, I want to point you to a few great places that you might not discover on your own with a limited time and travel budget.  All the travel blogs that I have written, I've had multiple visits to those cities and picked what I have perceived to be the best or most interesting places.  Some blogs are meant to be nostalgic and to invoke certain memories, like my blog on my old boss, Papa Frank, or the one on Roseland, Evans Field or Caruso's Lakeshore House.  On my more inspirational blogs that I've written, I tell stories of the people that I've met like the one shoe lady, the kidney recipient, the man who found my Christmas tree or the crying woman at LaGuardia airport.  I tell these to remind you that we all have the opportunity to give back and that there are people that do it each and every day, as a habit.  I try to share topical current news stories that may have been buried on the back pages of newspapers and that I think should have gotten more attention.  Lastly, I write my humorous blogs to give you a lift on Tuesday mornings.  My heaviest traffic hours are right after sun-up each Tuesday until about noon.  I like to think that I've been responsible, a few times, for a few people, starting their days in better moods, so I blog for you, the reader. 

     I blog for myself.  You may have thought that I covered this in the first paragraph, but you shouldn't be surprised that I'm starting and finishing this blog with a paragraph about me.  This blog makes no income, there is no deadline that is not self-imposed, content is not edited or influenced except by me, so it allows me
a freedom and creativity that my job, my volunteering, or my home life does not offer.  It's a healthy way to vent about my frustrations, and it keeps me disciplined to keep up on my writing and reading skills.  If you were wondering, I do read other blogs.  I currently follow, on an irregular basis, one on life in Alaska, a struggle with weight loss, an inspirational topical one, one on a trip teaching Kripalu yoga, one on local food, a teacher's musings, and several others that pop up and go away.  A lot of people start blogs and after a month or two, leave them behind.  I'm in for the long haul myself and will continue to publish, until I've got nothing worthy left to say.  Feel free to tell me when I get to that point, cuz after all, I blog for ego. 


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

This is why I don't do housework....

     I ran across an interesting article last week that suggests that men who help with housework such as cooking, cleaning and shopping have sex less frequently than do their counterparts who assume more traditional gender roles like fixing cars, mowing lawns, and repairing things around the house.  The article is here (More housework, less sex.), it's a quick read, and my take on it is below.  

     "Honey" I called from across the room while unloading the dryer, "Did I tell you about the article I read this morning"?   "No", she replied from her perch on the couch, "But can it wait?  Sophia Grace and Rosie are on Ellen today, and you know how they crack me up"  "Sure" I replied and started to fold the clothes and separate them into piles for each room occupant. 

     I tried again while dusting the living room later, "Honey" I said softly, as to not disturb her sleep, but she looked so peaceful I let it slide, and figured I could talk to her later at the table, so off to make dinner I went. 

     "This chili is fantastic dear" she remarked a scant hour later, "it's even better than the steak that you cooked last night!".  Thanking her, I once again tried to broach the topic of that oh-so-interesting article but was quickly derailed by my 13 year old, who apparently needed more attention than I did and insisted on telling a long story about his day.    I made myself busy with doing the dishes, and vowed to try again after I finished that, oh and maybe mopping the floors, how do they get so dirty so quickly?"

    I got back from the quick trip to the store (while cleaning I noticed a few things were low, and figured I'd pop out to get them), and while putting the groceries away, I peered into the living room and not finding the missus, I heard a slight splashing upstairs, and quickly surmised she must be indulging in a hot bath.  This gave me time to do a quick vacuum of the living room, and not chance disturbing her TV time, so I did a  once over and went back to stocking our shelves. 

     Later as I clipped coupons on the couch, we watched some prime time and I planned to broach the topic again over the commercials, but then noticed her wine glass was empty, and having experienced that wrath
before, I smartly opted to re-fill it.  It predicated a trip downstairs to get a new bottle and while there I pulled a roast out of the freezer for tomorrow's dinner.  After opening the wine I went back into the living room with my show already in progress again (No biggie, they'll probably repeat those essential plot parts later anyway) and I started to settle in but noticed that it was close to time to tuck my son in, so I got his room ready and 15 minutes later rejoined my spouse.  No talking was possible now, we were getting to the good parts, although I was having trouble following now. 

     An hour later, after setting up the coffee, and refilling the cat's food and water, I eased myself into bed next to her.  "You look very fetching" I said to her and snuggled closer, knowing that my hard work today would surely be "rewarded".  "Thanks" she said, "but I hardly believe it, knowing how tired I am right now, it was an exhausting day. Hey, maybe you can tell me about that article you read, while you massage my feet?"

"I'd love to Honey, but I honestly can't remember now what it could have been about" 

This wheel wasn't in my bedroom before I wrote this blog, but all bets are off now.