Archive for January, 2007

Butter Vs. Margarine

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Chef Orange -

My roommate and I are having an ongoing debate of butter vs. margarine. She was raised on it, and believes it to be healthier than eating actual butter. I was raised believing that real butter is the only way to go, and argue that the artifical ingridents are actually worse for you. What is your take?

thanks -

All Buttered Up


I’m going to have to side with you on this one. Margarine is made by hydrogenating vegetable oils and adding artificial butter flavor. Basically, that means that manufacturers of margarine take regular old corn oil, process it with nickel, and then expose it to hydrogen gas under heat and pressure. The unsaturated vegetable oil fat molecules change shape and take on hydrogen to become artificially saturated. This allows the margarine to mimic butter, as saturated fats solidify at higher temperatures than unsaturated fats (i.e., in the refrigerator, not the freezer), and hold their shape at room temperature. The nickel is then strained out, having fulfilled its purpose as a catalyst to the reaction.

While it is true that the hydrogenation process mimics the saturated fat content of butter, I’d prefer my fat to be presented to me in its natural format: oil when oil is called for; butter when butter is called for. That’s a personal choice. Somewhat more troubling to me are the potential side effects of exposure to large quantities of artificial butter flavoring: the potential of serious health problems due to one of its key ingredients, diacetyl.


What’s In Your Tuna Sandwich?

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

This week’s poll is actually the slight formalization of an ongoing poll I’ve been conducting sporadically for the past eight years: what do you put in your tuna sandwich (besides tuna, of course)? This poll started my Junior year of college when Aurora and I needed a quick meal and decided to make tuna salad. I reached for the green olives; she reached for the relish; one of her roommates said we were both wrong: tuna salad ought to have apples and walnuts in it. Since then, I’ve occasionally asked people who happen to be around when the subject of tuna sandwiches rarely comes up, what do you put in your tuna sandwich? and I’ve gotten a surprisingly wide range of responses. Today, for the first time, I’m putting the question in print.

So, please register your preference by leaving a comment to this post. I’ll tabulate the results, analyze them for patterns, and report back in one week with my findings.

P.S. I’m not talking about any rare attempts to fancify from your norm, but your run of the mill, every day tuna sandwich.

Keep reading for the results from last week’s poll.

Sloppy Joe Results

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

The results are in, and the overwhelming minority has spoken in favor of Open-Faced Joes!

Rory really likes Open-faced Joes!

Sandwich style was favored by a 3-1 margin (18-6), with two of the votes in favor of open-faced style coming from my siblings; and another that was actually ambiguous (I interpreted Janice’s comment that “any misconceptions on the proper eating of a Sloppy Joe can be blamed on the American school cafeteria institution. They slopped it down sandwich style.” in my favor because otherwise I would have had to report that the results came in at ‘more than 3-1′, and I wanted to avoid that wide of a margin).

Otto Schmidlap offers us a bipartisan solution: he eats his neither open-faced nor as a traditional sandwich, but as a sandwich with more filling heaped on top, then tackled with a knife and fork.

But really, when it comes to sloppy joes, everyone wins—simple to make, delicious to eat. Everyone wins!

Babies As Food?

Monday, January 29th, 2007

In 1729, Jonathan Swift (of Gulliver’s Travels fame) wrote “A Modest Proposal,” a great satiric essay on that very possibility, as a possibile alleviation of poverty for families who could not afford to feed all of their mouths. It is amazing how, nearly 300 years after the words were written, Swift’s essay is still quite easy to read and rife with black humor.


A New World of Waffledom

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Last March, when I was in Los Angeles for a wedding, I had a weekend full of waffles, all of them sweet. My favorite came from Charlie’s Coffee Shop in the old Farmer’s Market. Their booth is right near Gate 4 off of Fairfax Avenue and their waffles come with a big ol’ hunk of real butter and—upon request—a pitcher of real maple syrup. The waffle I got from Swingers Diner (below the Beverly Laurel Motor Hotel at the corner of Beverly and Laurel) wasn’t quite as good as Charlie’s. The diner itself is a nice place, though, with real pizzazz, and a great choice if you’re in the mood for a brownie a la mode and a cup of joe.

Swingers Diner in LA, CA

While we (Aurora, our friend Rebekah, and I) were eating dinner in Swingers one night and I didn’t order a waffle, they started giving me a hard time about it. “I’m surprised you didn’t order that sandwich to be made between two waffles,” Rebekah laughed, which led to a discussion about the unexplored possibilities of waffledom: savory waffles!

Because, really, what’s to dictate that waffles have to be a sweet treat served with syrup? Yeah, they’re tasty like that, but why not serve them with vegetables and savory sauces? I thought I was on to something completely new and different. Turns out, I was just resurrecting a concept that’s been dormant for years (perhaps since the Depression). According to The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion, “In the 1930’s, waffle suppers consisting of waffles with a savory topping—most often creamed chicken—were standard entertainment. They enjoyed a particularly favored place in the Franklin Roosevelt White House, whose thrifty head housekeeper saw them as an economical way to entertain heads of state” (12). Of course, I didn’t know that when I set about to create my own savory waffle dinners, which made my work all the more fun and exciting.


Phone Call From Kraft

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

So, I just got off the phone with someone named Larry Edwards from Maxwell House who wanted to touch base with me about the comment I submitted through the website. He wanted to know if I had any additional information I wanted to share for the sake of a report he was filling out to share within the coffee division at Kraft. He said that they always try to respond to comments quickly and that they try to be sensitive to issues that arise related to their business practices.

So, apparently my comment will be registered as a blip on the proper graph. It’s also possible that they do try to conduct their business responsibly. Of course, at this point, all they’ve done for certain is to file a report that my comment has been registered. Whether the WWF report has any impact on their supply chain remains to be seen.

Also, just wondering: has anyone else received a phone call letting them know their comment has been registered?

Kraft’s Apparently Automatic Response

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

keyword coffee illicits nonapplicable response

I submitted a comment via Kraft’s website expressing my concerns about some of their coffee having been grown illegally in land set aside by the Indonesian government as a preserve for endangered species. Here’s the response I got back:

Thank you for visiting

I appreciate your interest in our partnership with the Rainforest Alliance organization.

Kraft Foods Inc. announced a partnership on October 7th, 2003 with the recognized international conservation leader Rainforest Alliance, to support the development of sustainable coffee production in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Central America.

For a full report and updates of this alliance, I would encourage you to visit our corporate site at Select the search tab and search on Rainforest Alliance.

Again, thanks for contacting us, and I hope you’ll continue to enjoy our products.

Kim McMiller
Associate Director, Consumer Relations

I understand that Kraft is a multinational corporation (they actually identify themselves for corporate puposes as Kraft Global) that receives untold numbers of comments per day, and that their supply chain is necessarily immense to provide all of the ingredients required to support their innumerable brands.  All the same, it would be nice to feel as if my concern registered as a blip on the proper graph (concerns about coffee supply:Indonesia) instead of the one that tracks concerns about coffee supply in the New World rainforests.

Sloppy Joe Conundrum

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

My wife made dinner tonight—sloppy joes—and it was tasty.

Open-faced sloppy joes

We served it on homemade sourdough bread, which is a bit unconventional, but it definitely made the meal tastier than it would have been on a run-of-the-mill hamburger bun. That’s not the conundrum.

The conundrum is, when it came time to serve the meal, Aurora gave me a little bit of sloppy joe mix between two slices of bread like a traditional sandwich and I looked at her like she had three heads, “That’s not how you’re supposed to eat sloppy joes,” I told her. “They’re supposed to be served open-faced and eaten with a knife and a fork.”

It was her turn to give me a funny look. “No way!” she protested. “It’s a sandwich and you’re supposed to eat it like one. Haven’t you ever seen the picture on the Manwich can? It’s a sandwich.”

Actually, no, I can’t recall the picture on the Manwich can because it’s never entered my shopping cart and I don’t pay attention to it, because who wants sloppy joes out of a can? But that’s a different topic altogether. Really, what I’d like to know, as an informal poll, is how many people eat their sloppy joes open-faced and how many pick them up and eat them like a traditional sandwich? Please leave a comment; I’ll tally up the results and post them in a week.

The Decaffeination of Coffee

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Dear Corduroy,

At Caribou Coffee this afternoon I noticed a tag next to their decaf coffee saying “Natural Decaf”. I asked about it and was told they use only water to decaffeinate their coffee. In the past we talked about how other companies use harsh chemicals like methylene chloride to remove the caffeine that hurt the flavor and could be harmful to the drinker. According to Caribou’s website their process preserves “nearly 100%” of the coffee’s flavor. Have you heard about this? Maybe it is time for a taste test.

–Sleepy in Pittsburgh


Maybe you should switch to full-caff and it’ll help you wake up!

I have heard about the water-only decaffeination process (branded as the Swiss Water Process). Its proponents tout it as a way to remove the caffeine without removing the flavor; their case is summed up in a tutorial on the Swiss Water website. The basic process consists of soaking a batch of green (unroasted) beans in hot water, thereby dissolving the caffeine and the flavonoids (compounds responsible for the coffee flavor) out of the beans, discarding that batch of beans, and then using that same batch of water to soak more batches of beans. The caffeine is filtered from the water by means of a charcoal filter; the flavonoids stay in the water.

Because the subsequent batches of beans are soaked in flavonoid-saturated water, they retain coffee flavor while losing caffeine. The process works well (removing almost all of the caffeine and retaining the coffee’s unique flavor) so long as all batches of beans soaked in the water are the same type of bean. Because the flavor components are water soluble, and because the water can only absorb a certain concentration of these flavonoids, it’s easy to guarantee that the beans will leave the process with almost as much flavor as when they entered it, but not that the beans will taste the same. If a batch of Sumantra Mandheling beans is soaked in water that has been used for Kenya AA, Colombia Supremo, and Guatemala Antigua, the beans leave the process tasting like a blend of all four types of coffee because the flavonoids intermingle during the decaffeination process.  In general, though, you should be wary of the “Naturally Decaffeinated” label.  It can be misleading.


Where Does Your Coffee Come From?

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

It might be worth asking a few questions to find out. According to a recent press release from the World Wildlife Fund, there is a great deal of coffee being grown illegally in Indonesia’s Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBS), reducing the amount of habitat available to endangered species such as tigers, elephants, and rhinos.

According to the WWF:

Bukit Barisan Selatan, a World Heritage Site on the southern tip of Sumatra Island, is one of the few protected areas where Sumatran tigers, elephants and rhinos coexist. It has already lost nearly 30 percent of its forest cover to illegal agriculture, most of which is for coffee production.


Illegally grown coffee from Indonesia is mixed with legally grown coffee beans and sold to such companies as Kraft Foods and Nestle among other major companies in the U.S. and abroad.