FoodWords Between Deadlines 



FoodWords on hold!
I've suspended the regular email newsletter FoodWords while I search for a new list host. Until then, bookmark this site or add to your favorites, and visit often. I'll post a note when I have a relaunch date for the newsletter. Thanks!


Friday, June 17

Food Marketers' Self-Regulation a Failure?

This article from reviews complaints by the citizen group Center for Informed Choices, which wants the Federal Trade Commission to get tough on food marketers.

The group's comments come a few weeks before the FTC's first two-day workshop investigating causes of childhood obesity.

It's the old debate -- who's responsible for fat kids? I can assert as the parent of a 10-year-old, who mixes both sedentary play and vigorous physical activity, that the responsibility starts with the parents, who have the final say over what goes into the grocery cart.

In this debate, though, the parents seem to be silent while the war rages between two camps who aren't really invested in the target audience, the kids.

Like so many public debates today, this argument has no final answer because the two sides are arguing different cases. The childhood-obesity people criticize food marketers and manufacturers for "pushing" junk food on kids, but the marketers and manufacturers are looking at what will sell. Each side answers to a different audience.

The last time I checked, food manufacturers were not making kid-friendly products out of the goodness of their hearts but because they know kids will buy, or ask to have their parents buy, those foods. Is that bad? Only if the parents are irresponsible enough to buy their kids anything they demand without regard to diet or healthful qualities.

Parents should demand that food manufacturers clean up their acts, limit the amount of added sugar, salt and fat. But will they stop buying what's out there? Probably not.

How successful has the apple-dipper side item been for McDonald's? Purists would argue it's not much better than french fries because the dipper is almost all sugar. I prefer to look at it as a way to get kids to eat apples.

Parents need to support efforts, however meager, by mainstream food marketers to present more healthful foods, and to seek out smaller manufacturers who do produce higher-quality foods. Or they could start doing more of their own baking, cooking and snack-making.

But the debate will go on. The advocates and the manufactuers will continue to issue self-serving proclamations, charges and counter-charges, and parents will keep buying their kids Happy Meals and Big Kid Meals.

Monday, June 13

Birthplace of the Frango Mint

Here's one question that didn't get asked in this story about Knechtel Laboratories, a Skokie, Ill.-based candy and flavor lab that apparently developed the recipe and manufacturing process for my all-time favorite chocolate candy: the Frango Mint, sold exclusively by Marshall Field's.

Field's outsourced the candy manufacturing several years ago (one of many unwise decisions made when it was owned by Target/Dayton-Hudson).

Along the way, I am convinced that something has changed in the recipe. It's not as full-flavored. Or, the mouthfeel is different. Or something. But it's different.

Still good. But not as good as before when you could watch people making the little double-chocolate mints at the State Street store.

Even if you don't have a strong attachment to any of the candies, cereals or other treats Knechtel has concocted over the years, this is still an interesting story. Could have used a few more common-people details, but it did run on the biz page, not the Food page.

Wednesday, June 1

Finally! A Shout Out for Farm Women!

And don't call them farm wives, either, although some might feel they are married to their farms.

The New York Times reg.req. today profiles some of the growing population of women who head farms. It's billed as being "across the United States," but of course most of those profiled run small specialty veg. or herb gardens, not 500-head dairy farms in Wisconsin or cattle ranches in California, but any recognition is useful. And the photos are not all of glamorous, stick-thin women bearing magazine-quality baskets of produce. (Yes, my bias is showing!)

I like this story most because I am the daughter of a farm woman and may become one myself someday. Hooray for hayseeds!

Monday, May 30

The 100-Calorie-Count Snack

Here's something I just saw in the store yesterday: a new product that repackages a popular snack food into 100-calorie portions.

In other words, you can eat the contents of one pouch and get no more than 100 calories. It's a new snack trend that forces portion control onto snacking, so people can indulge without guilt.

The snacks are either smaller versions of the original snack, or, as in the case of Oreos, a reformulated version that has some of the hallmarks of the original but in a different form.

It's okay -- but they aren't sold individually. They come boxed in multipacks, although I didn't see how many pouches come to a box.

Maybe it's the answer for people who faithfully track their calories every day. I think I'll just stick to Goldfish, thanks.

Thursday, May 26

Crying, while eating?

When does 30 seconds feel like an eternity? When you're watching somebody writhe and moan in faux histrionics while consuming tasty snacks.

I'm not sure about the motivation behind this site, "Crying, While Eating," although I do give it extra points for correct punctuation. It's a collection of 30-second QuickTime clips showing people mourning banal, minute or irrelevant problems (lost opportunity, "the somber moments after dawn," etc.)

I guess there's something provocative, quirky or dissonant about people who can assemble and consume actual food.

Whatever: here are my nominations for the CWE (rhymes with "twee") Awards:

1. Most sincere distress: Ted, eating Honey Nut Cheerios. Ted knows you can't chew and cry at the same time. His silent paralysis is heartbreaking ... almost.

2. Most revolting abuse of an eclair:What could that harmless little French pastry have done to receive such abuse from Afshin, supposedly mourning the absence of positive news stories? Obviously a Fox News devotee.

3. Most artisitic merit: Giacomo, absently consuming a tuna sandwich before recalling he doesn't really like fish. Shot like a classic foreign film, possibly more Bergman than Fellini or Godard.

4. Most compelling argument for no-fault divorce: Hannah and Paul, bewailing the gulf between them. Or, maybe they're just grieving the really hideous cafe curtain behind them. Doesn't matter. Just go get the lawyers and put this relationship out of its misery.

Historic breakthrough! Dogs Match Buns!

So it's not as groundbreaking as a Iranian nuclear test-ban treaty. But thrifty sausage-eaters everywhere will rejoice to know that in Chicago, the decades-old tragedy of wasted buns is about to end.

That's because Vienna Beef, which makes sausage among other meat products, has brokered an agreement with a commercial bakery, Alpha Baking (S. Rosen buns) to put eight buns in a bag to match Vienna Beef's 8 tube steaks per pouch.

This news story -- "alleged news story," we should say, because it sounds like a press release even though it came from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University -- claims 2 million buns go stale every year because the number of buns in a bag doesn't match the number of dogs in a package. We weren't aware that it was a crisis, perhaps because we either don't eat that many hot dogs or we find other uses for those extra buns.

No, our problem is Johnsonville, which packages its fresh brats 5 to a tray, but local bakers sell brat buns (shorter, wider and denser than hot dog buns) six or eight to a package. So we buy the frozen cooked version, which comes six to a bag.

(Here in Wisconsin you would think buying a frozen cooked version would be tantamount to treason; actually, they come pretty close to the actual grilled version. It works for us because we're not hardcores who grill all winter long, just until the snow covers the grill.)

Wednesday, May 25

'Attack of the killer cupcake'

Would someone please explain this to me?

In the Midwest, cupcakes are what you make for your kid's bake sale or birthday. You buy them at the neighborhood bakery. My old boss at the high-end bakery would make them if somebody paid her to, but they weren't a big-ticket item (too expensive to make for what people in Green Bay, Wis., want to pay.) In other words, they're no big deal. Okay, the mom who bakes and decorates them by hand gets viewed with suspicion by those of us who churn out massive doses of puppy chow to meet our obligations, but we don't drive all over town for them.

Now, in California, where every third person has food preferences that render them unfit for the average dinner party, cupcakes are all the rage. And not just your average store-bakery no-ingredient-found-in-nature version, either. In the state that made no-carb, low-carb, no-sugar and no-dairy diets the norm, the softball-size cupcake has pride of center plate.

Thankfully, Los Angeles Times reporter Betty Baboujon maintains perspective, reminding the giddy that cupcakes are, after, just cakes shoved into smaller containers, and that "gourmet" cupcakes often can fall flat in the flavor and texture departments.

This story does come with recipes, of course, and they look pretty swell. Worth registering on the LATimes site.

Haute Dogs in New York

For my money, I would still rather have a brat slathered with Secret Stadium Sauce at the old Milwaukee County Stadium. but if I get a hunger for a hot dog on my next trip to NYC, I'll know where to get one.

This story in today's New York Times (registration required) runs the gamut from Nathan's Famous at Coney Island to $19-a-pop dogs made with Kobe beef. Thankfully, reporter Ed Levine knows his franks well enough not to mislead by the Hamptons-ization of this most American of foods. (FDR and Eleanor served them to the English Royal Family when they visited the U.S. in the 1930s).

Lots of good information and oddball facts to be found here.

Tuesday, May 24

'Busted for harboring ham'

A ham-sniffing beagle ruined a Trib reporter's bid to bring a tasty but pricey hunk of jamon Iberico de bellota into the U.S. at a Chicago O'Hare customs point.

Apparently she didn't declare the snack on her customs form, but that isn't what brought the customs hound, who remains unidentified, down to her canvas carryall.

Eng didn't know the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services prohibit bringing Spanish pork products into the country. Meat products are potential sources of hoof-and-mouth disease in the U.S. view because the USDA hasn't cleared any Spanish slaughterhouses yet.

She could have faced a $50K fine or 10 years in the clink; instead, she just had to hand over the $50-a-chunk souvenir. I can understand her feeling of loss.

A few points to take away:

1. There's a Museum of Ham?! Yes, but that's not the wierdest part. Madrid has six museums competing for the title, along with countless other tourist attractions that make it the Heaven of Ham.

2. I know it's gourmet and all, but ham out of refrigeration for at least six hours? Ewww.

3. The customs inspector was no ordinary ham-fisted bureaucrat. She knows her ham: After Eng asked what would happen if she just ate the ham instead of handing it over, the inspector said the ham itself was so salty, "I think you might have regretted it for the rest of your life."

Worth Visiting: A Brief History of Food

Here's a handy place to go when you need to get your mitts on some fast food trivia, history and interesting or odd bits. (Just the thing we specialize in.) It's the Web site of Clifford A. Wright, expert in apparently a whole bunch of things according to his publishing history, mainly Mediterranean food, foreign affairs and child-raising.

The site is comprehensive if slightly pedantic -- just the kind of approach you can expect when really, really brainy people latch onto a new passion -- but that's not an insult. If we had to choose, we'd pick pedantic over flip any day -- PBS over Food Network, Clifford over Rachel Ray and anybody over Nigella Lawson.

Wright's latest book is "Some Like It Hot: Spicy Favorites from the World's Hot Zones." He also wrote "Little Foods of the Mediterranean," "Cucina Rapido" and "Cucina Paradiso" among others. Earlier in his career, he specialized in hot-button Middle East issues. So, he's exchanged one kind of hot zone for another.

Wright's site also has an especially useful list of foodie links. It has the usual suspects (the food site, Chowhound, Food Reference Site, Soupsong), but its true value is in its concentration on non-Western foods, foodways, countries and cuisine styles (Palestinian, Turkish, Libyan, North African) ancient cuisines, etc.

(Thanks to LII -- Librarians' Index to the Internet for this tip.)

Monday, May 23

Podcasting Goes Gastronomical

If you're not a full-fledged Internet geek, you might not know about the latest hot new technology called podcasting, which sort of brings audio, sound and RSS feeds together.

Most podcasting takes place in the thin air out on the leading edge of Internet thought, but the technique is starting to filter down to other subjects, including food, and especially with chef Neal Foley's Gastrocast, which covers food, cooking, eating, rants, stream of consciousness, etc.

If you're ready to check out podcasting, you need to download an aggregator. Get one for free here. And find more programs in this directory.

(Thanks to Steve Rubel for this tip.)

Thursday, May 19

Obi Wan Cannoli Wants You!

Even if you're sick of Star Wars, you have to check out this viral Flash video produced by the Organic Trade Association: "Store Wars." Starring Cuke Skywalker, Obi Wan Cannoli, Ham Solo and Darth Tater, it tells the tale of food adulteration and how to combat it. Spot-on parody of the earliest Star Wars chapters, obviously done by people who appreciate a good pun (Hey! Watch out for the Thai fighters!). So what if it's cornball?

Learn the ways of the farm here.

Want Some Spam with Your Pasta?

Hormel Foods is the House of SPAM (the canned meat, not the email product). Its product list spans all kinds of canned, cured and deli meats.

As far as we can see, there isn't a noodle anywhere in the place. So, it stands to reason that Hormel devotes one extensive page to a useful, if basic, guide to dried pasta: ingredients, flavors, shapes, cooking directions, matching sauces to pasta, Asian versus Italian, etc.

But that's not all! Pasta just takes up just one page of Hormel's Knowledge department. It's a good, handy quick reference section, which will be useful if you keep your computer near your cooking space.

Now, if they could just make the Find It Fast quick-search function less annoying. It floats and bounces alongside the copy. You can close it but then you have to move back and forth among pages to find things.

Wednesday, May 18

Blue Over Chips?

Memo to the sales and marketing staff at Old Dutch Foods, St. Paul, Minn.:

The Chicago Tribune's Good Eating staff just ranked Ruffles as the city's top chip. That must mean they didn't have Old Dutch to test. Better run a truck down there right now and show them what a big bet they missed.

Ruffles and its itty-bitty, brittle ridges, is the chip equivalent of Domino's pizza or the Chevy Cavalier -- serviceable but nothing special.

Here's the Trib's ranking:


(6.3 points. 12-ounce bag, $2.50; 21 cents per ounce.) "Very crunchy, crisp." "Very good potato flavor but greasy; excellent dunk-ability." "Plenty of salt, not much potato."


(6.2 points. 9.5-ounce bag, $1.99; 21 cents per ounce.) "Salty, spuddy, just oily enough." "My favorite of all. Great flavor." "Light, oily flavor; not much potato taste."


(5.3 points. 12-ounce bag, 99 cents; 8 cents per ounce.) "Golden, big ridges; more potato taste with some oiliness." "Very pretty with uniform ridges." "No potato flavor; oversalted."


(5.3 points. 12.25-ounce bag, $1.99; 16 cents per ounce.) "Some potato flavor shines through." "Good crunch." "Bland."

Also tasted

4. Lays Wavy (5.1 points)

5. Kettle Krinkle Cut Natural Gourmet (4.7)

6. Jays Crispy Ridged (3.9 points)

Tuesday, May 17

Coffee, Guns and Land Mines

Here's a story about how coffee gets from the slopes of Nicaragua to your breakfast table. But, author Sam Gugino ("Sam Cooks") adds a twist with the kick of a quadruple espresso.

Gugino's story is a wilder ride than usual into the heart of coffee country. In the first five paragraphs he introduces assault-rifle-equipped guards riding along with his excursion AND teams of land-mine hunters removing reminders of Contra fortifications from the 1980s.

Not your usual collection of lyrical descriptions, cliched travelogues and overworked adjectives, to be sure.

This article is from Gugino's most recent Sam Cooks ezine. Definitely worth checking out. Sam is a great straightforward food writer, nothing cutesy. He wrote the Cooking to Beat the Clock books, has backgrounds in both food and journalism and writes a solid column.

Monday, May 16

Field Trips and Farm Markets

About the only thing I really miss about living in Madison, Wisconsin, is the weekly Farmers Market around the Capitol Square. It's one of the best in the country.

(And I'll be honest here; I miss it only until I've been about halfway around it, at which point I usually exceed my capacity for tolerating the stylers and poseurs who are there more for the experience than for buying stuff and the people who stage neighborhood or college reunions right in the middle of the heaviest foot traffic.)

Nevertheless, I thought about it again this past Friday when my son's fourth-grade class made its annual field trip to the Capitol and UW-Madison campus. The square was relatively quiet in the afternoon, but 14 hours later, it surely would have been humming with early-season producers and serious shoppers.

This is the best time of year to shop the market, especially if you're easily irritated. The selection isn't as great, obviously, but you run into truly dedicated farmers who have produced the season's first radishes and lettuce in their coldframes, the cheesemakers (including Willi Lehner the yodeler), bakers, bee people and jam-sellers and others who can produce through the winter.

The early season also draws out the serious shoppers. Generally you won't stumble over as many dogs, strollers or chatters or bang into as many elegant shopping baskets as you do in the peak of the season, and that's reason enough.

Now, the point of this post: Here's a good farmers' market story from the LA Times (registration required)

Well, the story is so-so. But it has a recipe for a fresh strawberry pie that looks just luscious and not nearly as gooey-sweet as the ones you find at Perkins or places like that.

We're getting California strawberries now, here in Wisconsin, and like many things from California, they look pretty but don't have much juice or flavor. But the recipe comes about six weeks ahead of the Wisconsin strawberry season, and our local berries are just wonderful.

Friday, August 13

Julia Child Dies at Age 91

It's true -- the woman who helped revamp cooking at all levels in America died in her sleep Thursday at her home in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Link points to a Chicago Tribune story; registration required).

Prepare now for an onslaught of eulogies from everyone who ever watched any of her PBS cooking shows (I preferred the ones she did with Jacques Pepin for their humor, banter and crosstalk about food and cooking), or bought one of her books, or attended a show, or sat next to her and had the effrontery to ask her for an autograph (like me).

I am lucky enough to be able to report on actually meeting her several times in the 1990s. She was tall, gracious, interested in everything and everyone, generous with opinions, even potentially unpopular ones and unflagging. She came to Wisconsin either as a guest of corporate entities such as the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board or heritage-food organizations. I met her in Madison as she toured the famous Saturday-morning Farmers Market around the Capitol Square and then cooked with Odessa Piper at her restaurant, L'Etoile, for one of her shows, then again when she went on a cruise dinner in Milwaukee and taught a cooking class at Jill Prescott's former school in Kohler.

The best thing to do now would be to make something from one of her books. I heartily recommend the chocolate-and-almond Queen of Sheba cake ( Reine de Saba, p. 677 in the original 1961 edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking).

A faster alternative is the shrimp quiche from The Way to Cook (my copy of which opens right to the recipe on p 384).

If you're not up to that, go buy or borrow "Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child" by Noel Riley Fitch, a gush-free examination of Julia's remarkable life.

Most people will remember Julia as the woman who made French cooking accessible to the American public, but she's also to be remembered as an apparently fearless woman who carved her own path in life, who reinvented herself in her early 30s and ended up with a husband whose life eventually centered around her own. She was able to create her life without the distraction of children, which opens up a small debate: If she'd had a child, or children, would she have become the Julia we know today? And, would they have been the best-fed children in town, or would the old cobbler's-children maxim have ruled (the cobbler's children are the worst-shod)?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, July 27

FoodWords Between Deadlines is back up and running!

If you're as old as I am -- the first generation of newspaper writers who worked solely on computers and never with typewriters -- you heard that phrase, "back up and running," a lot. Mainly because the mainframe computer system your company was using either crashed a lot (usually on deadline) or had to be taken down at least once a day for maintenance or whatever other secretive reasons the IT guys for interrupting your work routine.

It has been a long time -- 25 years, omigod -- since I first sat down at a desk in a real newsroom and heard that deathless phrase broadcast over the loudspeaker. But it sticks with me. So today, I proudly announce that FoodWords The Blog is back up and running after a lengthy hiatus. Is anybody out there?

I recently left a wonderful staff gig writing for Anne Holland at MarketingSherpa in order to deal with some family issues. But, seeing as I'm continuing on as an occasional contributor to EmailSherpa, and I'm at the computer, anyway, and I'm still getting all my usual food news via email, I thought I'd put my time to good use and see how we  can build up the ol' blog.

Hey, guess what! Since the last time I posted here, I've acquired an RSS feed! Wahoo! We're totally out there now. Here it is:

I am still hoping to revive my newsletter, but for now, start looking for new, notable, goofy or otherwise comment-worthy food news beginning Wednesday, July 28.

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